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.

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11 Comments

  1. lisabrock

     /  September 12, 2015

    Awesome post.

    Sent from AOL Mobile Mail

    Reply
  2. Very insightful. Excellent writing.

    Reply
    • Thank you for reading. I would say my least favorite thing about living in LA is all the homeless, not because they bother me, but simply because there’s only so much one person can do to help. Especially one person who makes around $800 a month at Starbucks.

      Reply
  3. Woah, that’s a scary photograph of Freddy Mercury.

    Reply
  4. Love your style!

    Reply
  5. Again- I know your pain. I work in a yuppie mall where they NEVER close for holidays- and yes, there’s a Starbucks that I frequent in that mall and we endlessly discuss the injustice of working “holidays” for “the man”. But as you said, it’s better than having nothing. It’s tough out there, no matter where you are. If you have a job that drives you freaking lunar, it’s still a job. Good post, as always.

    Reply

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