To Be Human in LA

by Greg Olmeda

Preface

An ex-convict suffers an existential crisis in a bar.


     I grew up thinking I could carve this city like a turkey. Seven billion people in the world and they all live some place - I live in Los Angeles, of all places. Lucky me, right? I could have been born anywhere. Heck, I could've been born anything. Knowing my karma, I'm surprised I'm not a catepillar right now. Or a peppercorn. Instead I'm here, greasing my gut with pickle-backs at the Scarlett Lady Saloon with the rest of the humans.

     My bartender, Lizzy, hops in front of me. She's a real spunky punk-rock chic, I like her alot. I never have to ask her for a drink. She eyes my drink like a hawk, and when it gets low enough she asks,

     "What's next Greg?"

     "I'll take another pickle-back."

     "Aww, so sorry. You drank the last of the pickle juice."

     I look at the jar of Vlasic on the shelf. All pickles, no juice.

     "Fuck. I'll take another shot of whiskey then... and a pickle."

     She hands me the pickle first and I bite. It wasn't even crispy. It was dull and bendy. It pissed me off, sorta. Not to bore you but this is why I don't do quarters pickles - only full or halves. It's physics really. Full or half pickles have more skin and skin is crispy - more skin, more crisp. Sometimes I feel like I need to explain everything to everyone.

     I'll have to admit though, tonight I wasn't feeling too frosty to begin with. I was feeling real down actually. The type of feeling that leads me to trouble. So far, that's all LA has ever been good for - trouble. If I'd known this earlier on, I would've finished school and rode out my youth a bit longer, continued making decisions uncontaminated by my adult cynicism.

     Like when I was little, I wanted to be a scientist. Once a week I'd take the bus to the library and check out books on experiments, then perform them at home. One time, the book said to mix colored water, oil and vinegar in a jar and watch what happens, so I did it and watched what happened. All three ingredients separated, settling neatly upon each other. They never mixed. Sort of like me and LA.

     "Another shot?" Lizzy asks.

     "Shoot it. And another pickle. Wait, you're not charging me for the pickles are you?"

     "For you? No. Pickles are on the house tonight."

     "Thanks Lizzy. What would I do without you?"

     "I dunno..." she says. "Drink anyways?"

     See, all I've ever been in Los Angeles is drunk, broke or arrested. That's the truth. Yet, every time I'm about to tie my binkie to a stick and high-tail on out of here, I stop and think, well I don't want to be drunk, broke or arrested in Portland. So I stay in LA with my dick in my hand.

     I look over to Lizzy as she's drying a glass.

     "Hey Lizzy, you want to come home with me tonight?"

     "No."

     "Ok."

     Excuse me, but I haven't fucked in so long I wonder if this condom in my wallet has an expiration date. Can't really blame me - I did just get out of jail. Damn zookeepers kept me caged for an entire year. Even had my first nocturnal emission in there.

     In case you were wondering, that's when you jizz in your sleep. You don't hear about it much because most men jizz when they're awake. But in jail there's nowhere to jerk off, so your flippy-floppies just build and build until finally, you cream your county blues while catching zzz's. And let me tell you, the sex dreams start to get real weird. I hadn't seen a cute female in so long, towards the end of my stint I ended up fucking and cumming inside a dragon.

     "Hey, Lizzy, you guys hiring?"

     "I thought you said you had a job. You're dispatching right? For taxis?"

     "Yeah, it's a real Titanic of a job."

     "Titanic as in big? Or Titanic as in sinking?"

     "As in I'm a barnacle clinging to my job's side while it floats to the bottom of the ocean. I'm like the cello player who stayed to play music for rich people while they hopped in his raft. They all died, by the way."

     "I know" Lizzy says, "I didn't find that very admirable either."

     "It's an awful job. With Uber and Lyft taking over, there's no business for these guys anymore. I can't even step outside for a smoke without some disgruntled driver coming up to me and complaining... Telling me how he just had a baby - they all just had babies, or their wives just had surgery - and they can't afford any of it."

     "Sounds like you're more like a therapist to them."

      "Right? And I ain't gettin paid no Freud money. Fuck that. Pay me a hundred bucks an hour and I'll set up a couch right smack in my office. I'll wave a pocket-watch in front of their faces and everything. They can tell me all about how broke they are and all the uncles that touched them."

      "Wait Greg, I smell irony here," Lizzy says.

     "Irony? Shit Liz I'm an irony-detector."

     Irony, hmmm. I think about it. Oh yes, I have it - the drivers complain to me and now, here I am spilling my guts to Lizzy. Shit really does roll downhill.

     "I'm sorry Lizzy, I don't mean to complain. You don't get paid Freud money either."

     Lizzy cracks a smile and goes back to polishing glasses.

     "You see Greg, a year ago you'd come in here all the time. Alone. Order the same drink, talk to the same people and go home at the same time. Now you're outta jail, you have an opportunity to do something different, but you're right back here, drinking and shoving down pickles that've probably been on that shelf for over a year."

     "I prefer halves or fulls," I object.

     "Whatever... Listen, you don't need to get out of LA. You need to get out of here." She gestures around. "Go find a good woman. Stop sticking your dick in all these crazy bitches you seem so fond of."

     "Then lets get married Liz. I know a good judge."

     "I'd never marry you, Greg."

     "Are you a lesbian?"

     "No, you fucking twat. Because you don't want to change. You'd rather sit here and drink and complain rather than go out and actually do something about your problems. Okay fine, you're a felon and nobody but a shitty taxi company wants to hire you. Big fucking deal. Get out there, get creative. Be an entrepeneur. I don't know. Do something."

     Lizzy's tough love caught me off guard but she smiles before adding,

     "Plus, knowing where you've been I'd never go anywhere near that Chernobyl reactor you call a dick."

     Lizzy, like the finer things in life, always seemed a tad out of grasp. Yet my love for the unobtainable has left me emblazoned, passionate, almost desperate in fact, to conquer - jobs, women, hangovers - everything the city had to offer felt quaint beside the loftier aspirations that flickered inside me. The finer things that transcend the city you were born in. Yet there was little to be said. Here I was at the Scarlett Lady Saloon, fresh out of jail, throwing back salty shots of whiskey. It was time to go home.

     "Lizzy, it's been an honor, Ima high tail on out. Love you"

     She blows me a kiss goodbye and I catch it, rubbing it on my crotch. I push through the back door, through the circle of patrons smoking outside, into the intersection where I karate-kick the buzzer and wait for the light to turn. Across the street is my apartment, where an empty bed and an alarm clock waited.

     Without turning on the TV I hop into bed and shut my eyes. The words of Lizzy, always the wise one, resonated in my head. Get out there. Get creative. Do something. Tonight, not much happened. Tonight, I would sleep. But tomorrow is another story. Tomorrow, I will wake up, as a human, in LA.

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