I’m watching an old movie on my bed, holding my laptop close to my face to hear what the characters are saying.
It’s loud outside.
My apartment has no air conditioning or heat. But the weather is that breezy hardly-noticeable kind so my window is open and I can hear everything going on. The party down the block. The weekend traffic on Pacific Avenue. And the homeless man digging through the dumpster right outside my window.
Once a week he’s been doing this, since I moved in a month ago.
I know this because every time I hear him I have this fantasy.
A fantasy about getting up the guts to talk to him.
I will discover he is actually a genius and that he wrote the greatest L.A. novel of all time. But lost it in a house fire that also claimed his wife and children.
After the incineration (his words) he took to the streets and started garbage sifting– just as a form of therapy at first– but then discovered it to be the purest form of artistic expression. An art form that he would then pass on to me.
That’s my fantasy.
I pause the movie and put my laptop down on the bed, then walk over to my window and watch him at work.
It looks funny.
He’s bent over, digging in, and all I can see is scraps of trash being flung out onto the parking lot of our building.
This is my chance, I tell myself, speak.
Live the dream.
I sit on my windowsill and lean out.
“Hey man,” I say. “How’s it going?”
He jerks up, all sweaty and out of breath.
We lock eyes.
He says, “I just can’t, no no no. Can NOT believe what you assholes throw out!”
“Yeah cool man,” I say, like an asshole. “You want some water or a beer or something?”
“Nah, no, why, I got everything I need here,” he says. “Look.”
He holds his hand in the air and wiggles his pinky finger. A big fake-gold ring with an anchor on it, like you’d find in a cereal box.
“I found this last week,” he says. “So you tell me, huh?”
“Nice find man.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I know assholes say this a lot, but it’s true—that one’s man trash is another man’s booty. It’s true.”
“Truth,” I say.
He nods and looks down at the trash. I’ve done my part. And it’s just him and his dumpster now, like it should be. It’s almost sexual, the glare. I feel like a voyeur. Either that or I’m doing this thing I’ve been doing lately where I think everything is sexual.
Probably just that.
But it’s intense.
We both stand there silently for a minute. Me watching him. Him watching trash. Then Dumpster Guy dives back in, out of sight.
“AhhHA!” he says, rising from the waste like a great murderous whale and holding up a pizza box with a few stale crusts rattling inside. “Told ya!”
I’m pacing back and forth in my apartment, psyching myself up.
My neighbor/drug dealer has invited me to a small get-together at her place tonight.
And the time for action has arrived.
Time to meet new people, have new experiences, new adventures!
I begin the journey by repeating “who cares?” in my head over and over, hoping the words will guide me out the door.
That’s my mantra for the day.
Who cares if the people at this get-together come to the conclusion that, after getting to know me, I must be assassinated for the good of humanity?
Who cares if I don’t make friends?
I’m confident that, at this point in my life, I’m not emotionally or physically equipped for friends. I barely even know my neighbor/dealer Annie. She’s the woman that lives across the hall and sells me drugs and that was the extent of our relationship until last week.
I’d gone over to pick up from her and we got to talking. What I mean is she talked. And after a few minutes of knowing me she decided my problem was shyness.
“You need to get out more,” she said. “You should meet some of my people. Next week, when you need to buy more.”
I told her I would. Said yes to something when I wanted to say no. Because yes is always easier. People like to hear yes. People like “yes people.” But I’m a “no person” that is too afraid to say “no”. A person who’s even more afraid of going through the day without substances.
Yes yes yes.
I walk out of my room, into the hall, regretting everything.
The time for cowardice has passed.
But when I get to Annie’s door I hesitate.
I can hear the group of people packed in to her tiny apartment, laughing, comfortable, carefree. The sounds of friendship and blissful ignorance of what awaits outside. What lurks in the shadows.
I lift my fist slowly to knock, shaking a bit. Then a series of scenes start flashing in my head like a horror movie.
I see myself kicking the door in and staring at the strangers in confusion/terror. Then I see myself running away, long Olympic-style strides out the door, sprinting past people on the boardwalk and children playing on the beach and straight into the sea face-first. The end.
I knock and the door opens immediately.
“Hey you!” Annie says. “Come on in.”
She wraps her arms around me and I walk in to four faces looking up at me. Blank beady eyes. Sitting in a circle and passing around a bong.
“Everyone,” Annie says. “This is Ty.”
They all nod in unison.
I have an urge to declare, “I will NOT be your friend!” But I just sit down and twist my face into what I believe to be a non-threatening, casual smile.
It doesn’t work.
“You okay?” Annie says.
I tell her yes.
I’m a liar.
It feels like everyone is staring at me and I start to see my movements through their eyes. Everything about me seems off. Something in the way I’m sitting or the way I’m avoiding eye contact. They suspect me, they know about me.
What they know exactly, I’m not sure.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Annie says, handing the bong over and lighting the bowl. “Wasn’t sure you’d crawl out of your hole tonight.”
“Me neither,” I say, and pass the bong to my right.
Everyone has resumed the conversations they were in the middle of before I walked in. Conversations about simple things, people they know, places they frequent. The language of people who are generally okay with things. People who will never be friends with me.
For a moment this makes me angry, makes me hate them. But then I panic, imagining a life of never being okay with anything and realizing that my hatred of them only means I’ve lost, again.
Annie taps my shoulder.
“So,” she says. “Whatcha been up to today?”
“Just walking around,” I say. “Nothing really.”
“Nothing at all?”
Everyone stops what they’re doing, waiting. It’s still my turn.
“Well,” I say. “Earlier today I was waiting at the light on Rose, smoking a cigarette, when this guy came out of nowhere and said, ‘Hey man!’ and I recoiled like an injured animal…”
“…Has that ever happened to you guys? Like, forgetting you’re there? Forgetting it’s a possibility that others can see you and interact? Anyway, he asked me for a smoke and I gave him one. He was really drunk, swaying slightly, a little bit of vomit on his sleeve, and he couldn’t even light the cigarette. So I lit it for him. ‘Gah bless ya man’ he said. Then walked off….”
Silence, all eyes still on me.
“It was sad. I definitely felt something like sadness as he walked away. He reminded me of my Dad. Except my Dad doesn’t drink or smoke or look anything like him. I guess I just felt sad in general and unfairly attributed my sadness to him. Anyway, long after the normal amount of time to respond passed, I kinda missed him. So I yelled out, “Thank You!” Which was incorrect and made me feel even worse about the whole interaction. And then I went home.”
The room is still for a moment until Annie does a sniff-laugh and the others join in, faking amusement to be polite. I’ve failed the audition.
I revenge-imagine grabbing the bong and breaking it over my head, then ripping off my shirt to reveal the story I’ve just told freshly tattooed on my belly, still bloody and possibly infected.
I point to a bag with a few grams on the table next to me, looking at Annie.
“That Mine?” I say.
I pick up the bag, place my money on the table.
Annie gestures toward her friends and tries again, “So, Ty, this is–”
“I have to leave,” I say. Then I leave.
“Venice” is a must-read for any cyberwriter, autofic fiend, or motherfucker who happens to visit this website. You read Back Patio Press? Well shit, man, crazy — here you go! Fresh off the grill baby. Eat up!
Available now, click here.
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TJ Larkey now lives in Arizona. He’s the Sweet and the Heat. One two. Get it? Good.