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.

Bowling Club


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For our first work outing, we collectively decided to go bowling.  I don’t know why.  I can’t imagine many people actually like bowling.  I mean, I’m sure they do, or else bowling alleys wouldn’t exist, but to me, bowling was a last ditch effort at fun for middle-schoolers.  “Well, there’s bowling” we’d say as we lay around on someone’s bedroom floor, the fan spinning lazily about us.  I always tried to track one of the individual blades, but would give up after my head began to hurt.  “It’s better than nothing, right?”  After a while, everyone else grumpily agrees, and off we’d go.

My parents distrusted bowling.  I’m not sure if something bad happened to them when they were younger, or if they had read that bowling alleys were full with kidnappers and sexual predators, but that’s certainly what they thought, and they would always try to discourage us from going.  “Bowling?  You don’t want to go bowling,” my mother would say, “bad people going bowling.  People that want to do bad things for you.”  We could never prove her wrong.  Who knew if the thin, fifty-year-old man in the Harley-Davidson hat was only pretending to be a sad alcoholic, when, in actuality, he was scoping out the joint, searching for kiddies to stuff into a sack and take home?

creep

So I was resistant to bowling, but bowling won out like it always did.  I think it’s because everyone can do it.  It takes skill to be good at bowling, but it doesn’t take much to hurl a ceramic ball down a narrow corridor.  Michael made a list and asked anyone who wanted to go to write down their names so he could get an accurate count and be able to estimate how much it would cost to reserve lanes.  Everyone wrote their names down, including me.  Two of my friends were leaving Starbucks for greener pastures, and I didn’t want to miss one last chance to hang out with them.

This was about three weeks before the event.  In the time in between when I signed on the line and we actually went bowling, I spent five hundred dollars fixing my car, my rent went up, and I lost every cent I had.

I couldn’t afford go.  It was that simple, and it provided a anti-bowling person like me with the perfect alibi.  I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have to feel bad about not going to bowling.  In fact, other people had to feel bad for me because I was unable to go bowling.  It was a win-win; the perfect crime.  All I had to do was tell Michael I wasn’t going to go.

Then another week passed, and I forgot all about bowling until the very Saturday we were supposed to go.

I came into work and Chase asked me if I was going bowling. I stopped and stared at him, and then my face went through some gymnastics I wish someone would have caught on camera.  Surprise.  Horror.  Pain.

“No,” I said, “I don’t think so.  I don’t have any money.”

“Gotcha,” Chase said, ever understanding.

“Is Michael here?”

“He’s in the back.”

I walked to the back to tell Michael I wasn’t going just as he set his phone down.

“God damn it!” he shouted.  “That’s seven people who’ve cancelled, and I’m out $200 dollars.”  Then he looked at me.  My face went through some gymnastics I wish someone would have caught on camera.  Surprise.  Horror.  Pain.  Michael noticed.  “You aren’t bailing too, are you?”

“Bailing? Me?  Bowling?  No.  Bailing?  I love bowling.  When do I have to pay you?  Bowling is great.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Just some time next week.”

“Okay, great.”

Ten minutes later, while making a Pumpkin Spice Latte, I realized my mistake.  I hate bowling!  I don’t have any money!  Please, help!  I don’t want to go.

It was too late, so at 11 o’clock that night, I headed over to Pinz Bowling.

pinz

It was a relatively nondescript complex that had some impressive lights and a rather large, nicely maintained parking lot.  I was impressed with how clean it was.  I was also impressed with how close I lived to it.  It only took me three minutes to get there, and I left early, so I sat and my car, like I always do, and listened to Raw Power by The Stooges.

I got out of my car at exactly 11 and went inside.

All the bowling alleys I’ve ever been too were so full of cigarette smoke that you couldn’t even see the far wall, and lit by the sort of fluorescent lights that make you think you’re in a mental institution.

Pinz was packed with cool dudes smoking vape pins.  They had backwards facing hats and $900 leather jackets.  They wore brightly colored sneakers and drank craft beers and expensive little cocktails.  The women there wore tight clothing that accentuated their curves, had makeup on, and smelled amazing.  People were flirting, dancing, laughing.  Everyone had all their teeth, and I didn’t see a single knife or syringe anywhere.  There wasn’t even a single guy that looked like a pedophile.

And that was just the lobby.

There were twenty to thirty bowling lanes, all glowing faint neon blues and greens.  Hip twenty somethings bowled and drank in the lights embrace.  DJ lighting made strange colors dance playfully across the floor, and pop music blasted so loudly through the ceiling speakers that I couldn’t hear myself softly moan in utter shock.

I met my friends Matt and Wayne, and we went to our lanes.  I walked by more gorgeous women than I had seen in the past month.  None of them were bowling.  They were there trying to be noticed.

I used the computer in the lanes to select the theme for our bowl.  I gave matt’s lane “fairy tale”, which meant that a dragon appeared on the screen and ate a knight whenever someone got a strike.  I picked disco for my lane.  Each possible score was accompanied by a silhouette that would preform a strange dance.  Both themes tickled my fancy more than I care to admit.  Hell, the idea of having themes was hilarious.

I looked around as more people from work started to arrive.  They knew the score.  They were all dressed up, and here I was in my blue jeans and Iron Maiden T-Shirt.  The lights looked so expensive.  The sound system was amazing.  The bowling shoes were shiny and new.  I think I saw someone drinking a cosmo.

This wasn’t a bowling alley.  This was a bowling club, and strangely, even though all of this stuff must have cost more than I’ll probably ever earn in my life, it felt cheap.  I didn’t like how people were laughing and having fun.  I didn’t like how I could breathe.  I didn’t like how I could see for more than thirty feet.

We played three sets.  I was abysmal.  I’m not much of a bowler.  1:30 rolled around, and I decided to call it quits.  A lot of the club crowd had left at this point, too.  My group was having a blast, though, and were planning on staying for another thirty minutes.

I said goodbye to everyone, especially the two people who were leaving my store, and secretly vowed to never return to this terrible, terrible place.

As I left, a man walked toward me.  He was smoking a cigarette, even though we were inside.  The flashing lights and stupid blue glow of the place accentuated his orange tented glasses and receded hairline.  He looked even more thin than he probably was.  He carried a black duffel bag, and I could only imagine what was inside.  A bone saw, or maybe duct tape and a gag.  He was downright sinister.

I thought about my parents, and the bowling alleys of my youth.

We looked at each other as we passed on the stairs, and an understanding passed between us.  You can take the bowling out of the bowling alley, but you can’t take the bowling alley out of the bowling.

He went and started bowling in an open lane.  His only company was a bottle of Jack and whatever demons he brought with him.

I left him be, and returned my shoes.

“Did you have a good time?” The guy behind the counter asked me.

“Not really,” I answered, “but I think this place is growing on me.”c700x420

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