People on the Streets


freddie-mercury-yellow-jacket

I woke up at 8:00 AM on Labor Day because I had to go to work.

The mall knows no loyalties, and laughs in the face of the holidays of man.  No one I worked with was happy about it, me least of all.  Sometimes, you wake up, especially on Labor day, and you wonder, would it really be that bad if I didn’t show up?  So what if I got fired?  So what?

Management tried to placate us by running reduced hours.  As if that would help.  Veterans like me knew the score.  Time and a half wouldn’t cut it.  Reduced hours wouldn’t cut it.  Holidays at a mall in southern California are hell.

It starts off slow.  A trickle.  The mall employees come first.  They’re never the issue.  Since they work jobs more or less like mine, they sympathize with the struggle.  Then the families start coming, sun burned yuppies with strollers the size of sedans.  Their children aren’t howling, not yet, but they will be later in the day, when the mall is so crowded with people soaking up the free AC that you can’t even see the floor.

It gets busy around 12, like a tsunami hitting a small coastal village.  You don’t see it coming until it’s already there.  I’ve often stared out over the bar on holidays, watching the line, my molars dry with fear, and wondered “how can there be this many people in the world.”  I’ve thought this before, at concerts or sporting events, when you’re crammed into a stadium with 80,000 other people, the population of medieval London.  How do this many people exist?  What do they do?  How is there enough stuff for everyone?

I always dither on my phone for a good hour or so when I wake up.  That labor day was no different.  I checked facebook first, to see what my East Coast friends were up to while I completed my slumber, and then I switch over to wordpress to see how many views the Australians and Indians netted me (here’s a hint, guys: try harder), and then it’s on to reddit, youtube, and email.

That day, someone linked a video of The Foo Fighters, along with John Paul Jones and the drummer from Queen doing a cover of Under Pressure.  It was pretty good, but in my estimation paled to the original.  Master ditherer that I am, I watched a bunch of live videos of Freddy and the boys preforming it as I got dressed.  It was infectious.  I bopped and grooved in the most awkward ways imaginable to the baseline.

Bub bum bum bububu bum.  Left shoe, right shoe.  Bub bum bum bububu bum.  Shirt, bow tie.  Oom ba bob-et.  Oom-oom bob-et.

I kept the party going in my car too.  I blasted my e-dey dahs and oom ba ba bets for everyone to enjoy as I cruised down Ventura.  There was hardly any traffic.  Everyone was still enjoying their day off.  Not me though.  I was driving to work, barely holding my anger in check.  My friends were going to be grilling, hanging out, going to the beach.  I was going to be at the mall, selling frappacinos to chubby kids who smelled.

Oom ba bob-et.

There were a lot of homeless people, though.  They were out in droves, pushing their shopping carts full of their dirty rags, covered in dirtier rags, looking altogether helpless.

I wondered what they thought of Labor Day.

A month before, the battery in my Prius died.  We bought a new one and installed it, but Auto Zone had sold me a dud, and so the car wouldn’t start.  My friend Mike and I took two weeks trying everything we could to fix it.  Turns out we were right with our very first guess, but how were we to know?  The battery tester / charger  had ordered from Amazon was still in the mail, so we scoured the car for any sort of imperfection.

I walked to work for those two weeks.  I actually ended up enjoying it.  Besides the heat, it was a pretty enjoyable trip.  It was the walking back part that I hated, but I managed to get rides from friends pretty regularly, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

It was walking to work one day when I realized I didn’t have any deodorant.  I stopped by a grocery store on my way to work, and bought some Old Spice and a bottle of San Pellegrino.  I left the store and was a good distance down the sidewalk when I realized that if I didn’t want to arrive to work and curl eveyrone’s nose hairs, I should out on my deodorant before I started sweating.

So I did.  I walked down the street casually applying deodorant to my underarms.  Ventura in between Kester and Van Nuys is pretty busy.  I passed by a good dozen people as I slathered deodorant on my arm pits with one hand, and drank a now very flat bottle of Pellegrino with the other.

Ba da dum bum bum… okay!

Everyone gave me looks.  I gave them all looks back, challenging them to say something.

The only people who didn’t say anything were the homeless.  They normally bugged me for money, but on that day, they left me be.  I passed unmolested through their huddled masses.

I realized they considered me a kindred spirit.  I was a desperate man, reduced to using the outside world as his bathroom.

It was then that I realized the that they and I were separated by a very thin line.  One bad rent check, one broken leg, one firing, and I’d be out there with them, in the streets, begging for change and applying deodorant to my underarms.

I thought about this as I turned onto Van Nuys.  There were even more homeless here, and these didn’t even have carts.  They just sat in the shade, their heads drooping in defeat.

And I was on my way to work on Labor Day, the day your supposed to have off.

It always bugged me that Starbucks makes people work on the holidays.  I went to a Starbucks on Christmas Day one time, and the white mocha didn’t taste so great.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized they didn’t do anything wrong.  It was the shame, the shame at giving Starbucks five dollars worth of a reason to stay open on a holiday.

I don’t like working on holidays, but as I drove down the street, I realized it was better than the alternative.

I still have friends who don’t have jobs.  My buddy Mike, the one who helped me with my car, is still unemployed.  He’s been looking for a year.  I’m lucky I have anything.

Dum dum dum dududu dum.

The malls parking lot was almost empty when I pulled it.  It wouldn’t stay that way.  I switched under pressure to my phone and kept listening to it with my earbuds as I walked to work.

I sang along to the nonsense words Freddy shouts throughout the song.  Ee do bob et.  Ee de do bop bop!

I caught movement in my peripherals, and saw that there was some guy walking next to me.  He worked in the mall to, he had heard me singing, and he was terrified, because in my nonsensical shouts he saw what I truly was: a man who would walk down the street applying deodorant to his underarms.

He slowed down and let me go ahead, because he knew that a man who would walk down the street applying deodorant to his underarms is a desperate man, capable of anything, ready at a moments notice to stab you with the business end of a Pellegrino.

The Magic Hobo


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I was lying in Hyde Park at midnight on a Saturday, counting the stars.  I was the only person in the area, and I was shocked at the lack of stars.  It must be because I was in the middle of London, and the city lights blocked them out.  I missed the view from the beach back in Florida, a black sky painted with burning white spots over a dark blue sea.  I was shocked yet again when a noise like the snapping of a twig caught my attention, and a homeless person was standing directly in front of me.

He wore a long, brown overcoat, soiled and filthy.  Beneath that he wore an menagerie of clothing that he had crudely sewn into a massive parka of sorts.  A blue polo shirt made up part of a sleeve, three t-shirts and a tank top made up the front, and two sweater vests made up a sleeve on the other side.  Instead of pants he wore a bizarre  kilt made out of bed linens and towels, that reached down to his shabby leather boots, which seemed to be made from two boots each.  He wore a grubby, faded and torn top hat on his head.

He was seven feet if he was an inch, and he had an untamed mane of hair that I suppose constituted for a beard, that reached well down past his waist and covered the majority of his face, so that all you could really make out were two beady eyes and a large, round nose.  There were… things in his beard, that might have once been small animals or food, but that had now been subsumed into the ungainly collective of hair.  His stench was unbearable, like a trashcan full of feces and rotting squirrels.

He asked me if I would like to see a Magic Trick.

Now, when a homeless man looms over you, blocking the starlight in Hyde Park with his bulk, and asks you if you would like to see a Magic Trick, it’s most likely not the sort of trick you would wish to see, but rather something truly horrible and scarring, so I of course said no.

He showed me one anyway.

He clapped his hands together, his knit, fingerless gloves making a dry, dusty crack. He pulled his hands apart slightly, and a brilliant yellow light surrounded us.  He looked up at me and gave me a knowing smile, and it was the first time I was able to tell that he had a mouth.  His gold teeth glittered in the light like aztec gold.  He pulled his hands the rest of the way, and as he drew them apart, a rainbow formed in between them.  He swung his arms in a big arc, like he were throwing paint to the sky, and created a rainbow as big as his wingspan.  It shimmered in a fragile way that reminded me of an especially thin sculpture of blown glass.

I was awestruck.  I reached out to touch it, but with a wave of his hand the rainbow disappeared.  Sparkles and stardust rained down on my face, but disappeared like snow flakes on warm day upon contact with my body.  He bowed, and I applauded.  It took me a moment to realize that the applause seemed oddly stereo, and I looked around and discovered that a pair of rabbits were sitting on either side of me and applauding as well.  The hobo bowed again and held up his hands for silence.  We obeyed.

He asked if I’d like to see another.

I said sure.

He rubbed his hands together excitedly and then presented me his shirt cuffs.  He pulled back his sleeves to demonstrate that there was indeed nothing up them.  There wasn’t anything there, but the rabbits got up to inspect his sleeves more closely anyway.  They’re untrusting creatures.

He reached up into his sleeve and began to pull out many lightly colored squares of cloth, tied together in a long line.  He began to pace around us, laying down cloth in a large circle, one line adjacent to the next, so that each new rotation had a greater circumference than the last.  He must have pulled out a full mile of cloth, until the length finally ended with his undershirt and underwear, an almost obligatory occurrence for any “pulling cloth out of my sleeves trick”, and we were surrounded by a gigantic spiral of color, far more than any one man could fit up his sleeve, even a man of his great size.

He bowed again, and we applauded ecstatically.  The audience was now positively packed with creatures of the park: squirrels and rabbits, snakes and beetles, sparrows and pigeons.  Some of the wiser ones had brought snacks like peanuts and popcorn to munch on during the show.  They joked and laughed with one another, having a jolly time.  I eyed them enviously.

He asked us if we would like to see another Magic Trick.  We roared in approval, stood up and screamed in approval, beat our chests and slobbered for more.  He smiled widely.

The homeless man, who I was now beginning to think wasn’t your run of the mill hobo, raised his hand yet again for silence.  He stood there, with his head down, humming to himself, like in meditation, at first quietly, and then louder and louder, until he was positively shrieking.  His arms, which at first were held at the center of his chest in prayer, rose with his pitch, until his body was forming a cross.

It was then we noticed he was levitating 13 feet in the air.  The crowd was dumbstruck, silent.

And then we applauded.

We applauded like we had been struck blind at birth and this homeless conjuror had restored our sight.  We applauded like it was the end of the world, and it’s entire history was on stage, taking a bow.  We applauded like this, and only this, was the only thing ever worth applauding for.

I hollered for more.

He was suddenly on the ground.  There was no transition.  The sound of the applause had changed, too.  I looked around.  There was no one else there, no squirrels or rabbits, snakes or beetles, sparrows or pigeons.

Just him and me.

He stalked towards me, breathing heavily through his mouth.  He got very close, his face mere centimeters from mine. I could almost taste the rancid smell of old Sainsbury’s apple cider creeping out of his mouth.  He smiled, and I could see the sores on his gums, and the rot in his teeth that had once been gold.

He asked me if I would like to see the Last Trick, and he smiled like a crocodile.  I only wept and nodded.

He backed up a few feet and stood by himself for a moment.  He clapped his hands, one last time, and changed.

The change was instantaneous.  What was once a ratty old hobo was now a beautiful, young woman.  She wore bright neon spandex leggings, a zebra print, loose fitting shirt, and large hoop earrings.  She seemed to have been taken straight from the 1980’s.

She smiled sweetly, and kind of sadly, like she pitied me.

“At last.” She said.  Something was strange.  Despite sitting down, I was almost at eye level with her.  I shifted around, and my movement made a strange rustling sound.  A disturbing sound.  A sudden thought, a terrible thought, crept into my mind, and my face contorted with dread.  My heart beat harder and harder, faster and faster as I lifted my hands to my face, and saw the ratty, fingerless gloves.  I clapped them together and they made a dry, dusty sound.  I reached for the top of my head, and found a small, grubby top hat.  I felt my long scraggly beard, and the filth up my sleeves.

I was he.

“Quite a trick.” She said, adjusting her makeup as she looked into a mirror she was holding.  “I hoped you paid attention.  You really should have paid attention.”  She snapped the mirror shut and returned it to her purse.  “I would say I’m sorry, but he wasn’t.  He never is.”

And with that she walked out of my life, leaving me alone, at midnight in Hyde Park on a Saturday.  I wondered if it had to be Saturday at midnight for the trick to work, but I realized I had time to figure it out.  I had all the time in the world.  I fell back onto the grass and looked up at the sky.  My god, it was full, full of stars.

Reflections upon nearly finishing university.


The world is a cruel place, my friends. A mere glance outside my window tells me of this. To see the thronging crowds of homeless begging, banging on the glass, is to see my own future. I’m relatively certain that I shall join their ranks not long after my graduation, and that you will to, for what jobs are there other than the exciting career of homelessness?

“Why is this my future?” You may being asking yourself. The answer is relatively simple, and it is this: You, just like I, have no idea what you are doing. From the age of 5 to 20 something, your life has been laid out before your by your parents and the government, but then, upon the completion of your BA in Classics (or english or whatever) , the path you had been walking has suddenly split into an infinite number of directions. One choice, as it were, into 10,000. You know only a few hard facts:

1. You want to be alive. You know this because you have yet to kill yourself, or are at least very bad at doing so.

2. To survive, you need food and water. I am making an assumption that whoever may be reading this is human. If the reader is some sort of vampire or other undead abomination, he or she or it can substitute blood and/or brains for food and water as needed. Don’t worry, I won’t mind, provided they are not my blood and brains.

3. You need some sort of method to acquire food and water. It’s not like water falls from the skies or food grows on trees, is it? What? It does? Oh! Well, unless you are planning on being a farmer or some sort of hunter gatherer, two noble professions that I am in now way besmirching, then…

4. You need money to buy these things. And then, lastly

5. You probably need a job to find money

That’s all you know concerning your hazy and amorphous future. And so out you trot, into an strange, new world that doesn’t really want you there anyway, searching, vainly searching, for some sort of way to earn money. Fortunately for you there are lots and lots of people out there who want to give you money. Sadly for you, they probably want something in exchange. Also sadly for you, they probably want someone experienced in doing whatever it is that they want to pay you for, and won’t give you money if you have no experience.

“Hang on!” You say, scratching your head at the gangrenous sea captain who is refusing to hire you, “How am I supposed to get experience working on a merchant marine vessel if i am to inexperienced to work on a merchant marine vessel in order to gain experience?” The captain then leans in very close to you, so close that you can see the crustaceans scurrying about in his filthy beard, and feel the smell of foul old tobacco creep out of his acrid mouth and force it’s way into your nostrils, and whispers “No one knows me lad, no one knows. Now, get the fuck of me boat.” With that, he gives you a fatherly punch that sends you sprawling down the gangway, crashing into some barrels and fracturing your spine. Alas, such is life! All you can do is pick yourself up by your own bootstraps, dust off your exposed vertebrae, seek immediate medical attention, and try again.

Eventually you discover an oily man who tells you “Yes of course we have an opening! We always have openings!” He will then lead you into a damp and dark warehouse, populated entirely by under fed Indonesian children and their whip wielding overlords.

“Don’t worry!” He exclaims, clapping you on the shoulder and leading you to a bench with a sowing machine from the 1800’s and a grubby, empty glass, “The feeling of crippling despair will dissipate in time, along with you soul and dreams!” You nod mutely, and then ask “What’s the glass for?”

“Why, your tears of course!” He laughs. “The more you cry, the more you get to drink! Don’t worry though, anything you don’t drink will be collected after work and used to power the machines.”

“Your machines run on tears?” He recoils from you in shock, staring at you long ways down his scaly nose, curling his arms up into reptilian looking claws and hunching his shoulders in a most disturbing manner. He then hisses at you, like a vole, for some time, until he at last composes himself.

“No, of course not! Now, you are B shift, so your work hours will be 6am to 8 pm. If you are late, you will be fired. I suggest sleeping under your table, unless of course the bones will bother you…

“The bones…?”

“Ha! Don’t worry, they don’t belong to anyone who needs them. Not anymore at least…” His face softens, and he stares off into space as if remembering something long since past. He then snaps out of his reverie and smiles much like how a snake would if it had just gotten you to eat an apple. “Glad to have you aboard, work drone #5674! Good day, and work hard! Or else! Ha!”

You spend the next 20 years silently toiling at your machine, weeping only when you are thirsty. You’ve learned to save your precious tears for such instances. You occasionally pause and stare off into space, as a mutinous thought creeps into your brain, questioning why you ever left college in the first place. It was like a giant day care, you recall, but for adults! There were these interesting classes you could go to pretty much whenever you wanted! If you went to one, though, they made you take a test at the end. This was the only bad part you could recall , but it was surely better than stitching your fingers into a Nike logo on an almost daily basis! And you could drink beer instead of tears!

The thoughts pass, however, as quickly as a stinging backhand from your overseer. How did he get his job? You wonder, turning back to your sewing machine with a wistful sigh. It’s almost closing time, after all, and you have been looking forwards to your four hours of sleep for the past half day or so. The bones that litter your floor have now become your friends, and you can’t wait to tell them about the exciting day that you had! They are ever so good at listening, and dont seem to mind that you almost always fall asleep half way through your stories. They are always there when you wake, aren’t they?.

Such is your fate, but don’t feel bad! It’s mine too. Therefore, you should endeavor to stay in college as long as possible, because the real world is scary, and full of violent sea captains and oily, half reptilian slave masters. College is a safe place. Trust me, I’ve seen the signs in front of the library.

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