I took a week’s vacation from work and holed myself up in the apartment. On Friday as I was leaving work I planned it all out: Saturday I was gonna go to the beach and relax all day – get high. Maybe write a short. No pressure. Then Sunday I’d start out easy and write 1. No weed. Then come Monday I’d kick it into gear and write 2 a day till Friday. Definitely no weed. Then Saturday I’d kick it up a notch and write 3 – no weed. Then Sunday I’d go to the beach (lots of weed) and back to work on Monday. I wouldn’t leave the house except to get food at the Mediterranean place by the Post Office down the street.
Saturday went off according to plan. Sunday wasn’t too bad and I didn’t get high. But I barely finished the 1 and I didn’t like it. It was about a little boy who keeps throwing up and his parents and the doctors can’t figure out why. But he knows why.
Monday’s when it all went south. That night I could feel that pain above my ass and it pissed me off. I woke up 9AM and ate the rest of the fridge. It was 98 degrees. I don’t have AC. I don’t have a fan. I kept sweating my balls off sitting in that plastic chair in front of that plastic screen. Nothing. I remembered Bukowski’s advice – don’t try. Just sit there. So I turned on some Mozart and drank a strong cup of coffee but nothing happened. Nothing I liked anyway. Nothing interesting. Everything I tried was about some asshole named Alex who had this or that job and didn’t like it and eventually quit it to become homeless. He was always whining some bull about not being truly free and feeling like he should be more than just some employee somewhere but how the fuck am I supposed to know what that is. That stereotypical writer bullshit. It was trite and pretentious. I began to hate myself. 1 PM came and the pain above the ass started getting louder from all that sitting.
I was angry and hungry so I took a walk down to the Mediterranean place. The weather was the same old gorgeous LA weather. I walked in and the girl at the counter took my order. I ordered the same thing I always do – Lamb gyro plate, baba ganoush and the fried kibbeh. She knew me from before. One time she asked me “Hey. How often do you go to the dentist?” “Uhh… like every… what 6 months is the recommended amount? Yeah that’s what I do. Every 6 months or so.” She nodded. “I’m just asking because you have really nice teeth.” Pause. “And I’m in dental school right now so…” I feigned interest. “Oh cool!” “Yeah” she smiled. Her teeth weren’t so nice. Neither was her skin. It was pale ghostly see through. Her face was plain. But she was tall. This time she didn’t say anything. Just ran my card and got my shit ready.
I got the order and went back to my place. It was already 2 and I was beginning to get nervous. It was so hot out I had sweat pouring down off my nose continuously.
On my way back, a little Indian boy drove over my foot with his plastic toy tricycle. His mother was 50 feet behind him and didn’t apologize. I stared her down but she didn’t even glance in my direction. As I passed her wincing in pain staring at her face for any sign of life I noticed that she smelled like earwax. Earwax smells a lot like homeless people. Powerful and pungent and full of sweat and piss and assholes and despair.
I opened the gate and climbed the stairs and got back and sat in front of that screen for a few more hours with all that pain. I had nothing interesting to say but I was burning alive inside. Everything that came out was purely autobiographical. Probably because I lack imagination, as my father always says. Or perhaps it was because everything that happens to me seems more important and profound than shit that happens to you. Because I’m a narcissistic solipsist who doesn’t believe in lucid dreaming and much of anything positive, especially if it’s “spiritual.” And that Monday, even when I tried to write about something that actually happened to me, something I knew well, I still couldn’t write it well. I didn’t know how to write. I was a hack. Everything sounded trite and gay. I was Arturo Bandini on his off day. A little bitch wasting away his life pretending to be an artist. God I hate that word. Artist. Just like I hate God. Or any other words attempting to describe the ineffable or rhetorical truths of life. I beat my fists into my skull and grunted until I saw stars. I sat for another 30 minutes and then I broke down like a frustrated child. Like a fat girl whose mom wouldn’t let her have another piece of cheesecake at the Factory. I wanted to call my own mom and pour all this self-deprecating shit all over her. Make her feel bad for producing this useless idiot of a child in the first place just so we could all have a hand in this mess and share in the self-pity and guilt.
It was too hot in there. I told myself I wouldn’t get high but I couldn’t help it. After I inhaled the first half of the joint I was laughing and running around the house in a euphoria. I talked to myself in the mirror for a while. Then I called my mom in a wonderful mood and felt a sense of accomplishment despite doing nothing. I turned on the TV and felt content farting and smelling myself for the rest of the day and night.
I woke up the next day sober and hazy, pissed off and anxious. I spent the whole morning trying to figure out what project to start and not finish that day. I picked the glasses story. I’ve had the shadow of an idea for a while – it was going to be a story about a guy who up until now had gone through his life with blurred vision but, having been oblivious to it, had never actually gone to the eye doctor and gotten glasses. As a result he’s pretty bland, pretty content – neither happy nor unhappy. Until he gets a new pair of glasses that give him 20/20 vision. He starts seeing the detail in everyday life. Simple things at first, like how sparkly diamonds are, the depth of the red in roses, or the girl that sunbathes in the nude on the rooftop across from his office window, or how Winston walks around the office with his back bent and can’t look people in the eye. And he finally understands why brown shoes don’t go together with a black belt. At first it improves his life, maybe gives him greater sensitivity to details and nuance. But then it starts to become a problem and he can’t stop focusing on certain aspects and they make him sad and angry and anxious and nauseous, sometimes all at once. Things like Winston’s bent back as he walked around the office like a ghost staring at the floor and the frail old man that gets yelled at for crossing the street too slow by some asshole in a Porsche. Then the buttons that keep blinking red on all the cell phones in a room for no reason. And platform pumps on chicks who can’t walk in heels. Or those gold patterned t-shirts that Guidos wear. And tattoos. Definitely hates tattoos. And Alex, my character, he starts these having mental breakdowns and loses his train of thought constantly due to his changing moods and he can’t do his job pitching and selling and presenting like he used to when he was content and ignorant of it all. He tries to take the glasses off in the hopes that his vision and mind will revert to the way he saw the world before putting on those damn things. But you can’t forget what you’ve already seen once you’ve seen it. It was supposed to be a story with a point – maybe something about the whole ignorance is bliss thing.
It was supposed to be a good story. In theory. He would have these great philosophical discussions about his theory on life, the rule of opposites, that if you want something, you’ll never get it. That only if you don’t truly care about something, only then will you have a chance of it coming to you somehow. He’d have these discussions about how there is no justice in the world, how the ones who break the rules and are immoral and inconsiderate, are rewarded with money and freedom while the rest of us work jobs until we’re 65 and hope that we have enough in our 401K to pay some heartless cunt to wipe our ass at the nursing home and hope that they won’t beat us once we get Alzheimers and go full senile. And how there is no satisfaction for a human in his lifetime just like there is no satisfaction for any other animal in theirs. And that the only path to salvation is to forget everything you know and be dumb and spread cum because the only ones who are truly happy in this world are the retards, really. Just look at those Down’s syndrome faces – that’s the very definition of happiness. So Alex, my character, he rebels and becomes a bitter contrarian and does something crazy and weird and fights and tries to show the world that there’s something wrong with it but no one’s watching. And the crazier you act, the less people pay attention. The more you scream, the more you’re ignored and dismissed and bucketed along with the other unmentionables. Eventually he becomes insane. If not truly crazy-crazy, like throwing feces style, at least completely antisocial and dysfunctional by society’s standards. He can’t hold his job and becomes homeless and fucked up and smokes weed all the time until one day he notices the red red red of a rose petal and he smiles. And that’s how the story would end. And even though I still liked something about the idea, I hated the idea of me writing it.
It wasn’t long that morning before I got high and decided to go on a walk through the neighborhood to clear my head. About an hour in, I was getting hungry so I headed in the direction of the Mediterranean place. Only when I got to the Mediterranean place, I didn’t want Mediterranean. Just didn’t feel like it today. I didn’t know what I wanted, so I decided to keep walking until I did. I crossed Venice down Motor and passed 2 Indian places, a Campos Tacos and Chinese food place. None of them sounded good. I kept walking till I hit Washington and then I hung a right. I passed the Culver Center on my right and crossed to the other side of Washington where I hadn’t been before. I had driven past here all the time, but I hadn’t walked this side of the street. I suddenly felt very ashamed having lived in this area for 4 years and not being familiar with any of it. Something in my head told me I needed to be better than that. Than what, I’m not sure. But I kept walking. I passed a few nail salons and a massage place. I considered going into the massage place and inquiring if they did the whole happy ending thing here but I felt too embarrassed. Besides, I had no cash. Even if they take credit card for some stuff, I know they prefer cash for that tip. I passed a Brazilian place, but decided I didn’t want Brazilian either. I walked until I saw this sign that said “Jorge’s Bakery.” Hmm. Alright Jorge. Let’s see what you got. A fresh baked roll actually sounded perfect right about now.
I walked through the door into a tiny little room with a single display case containing some small rolls. To call them rolls, however, would be misleading. They weren’t at all round. Nor were they rectangular. I’m not exactly sure how to even describe the shape of these wheat creatures. Misshapen alien lumps? They weren’t like any regular shape I had ever seen or even heard of in my high school geometry class. If that wasn’t enough, they were separated into 2 colors – deep purple and bright green. Was this a joke?
I looked up and behind the counter was a man I assumed to be Jorge standing in the doorway leading to the bakery in the back. He had been staring with his mouth half open not saying a word. I smiled meekly and looked back at the bright breads. Nothing was labeled. No prices. After about 2 solid minutes of silence I decided to say hello. “Hello.” He simply nodded and kept staring at me without blinking. He was watching my every move and he didn’t care how obvious it was. Does he think I’m gonna do steal his fucking crazy alien rolls? “So what kind of bread is this?” I asked, pointing at the purple one. “Ourgoh” he says. “mmm” I said knowingly as I looked back into the display case. Sourdough? Is that what he said? Why don’t you just ask him again? Stop being so meek! You’re the customer damn it! You’re doing HIM the favor! But I continued looking like I had a clue and hating myself on the inside. “How bout this one?” I pointed at a radioactive looking green lump. “Mooltigan.” What the fuck did he just say? “What’s that?” I asked with a smile. Pause. He leaned in close, still staring me in the eye. “Mool. Ti. Gan.” He phonetically spells it out like I was the retard. I was fed up now. Fuck manners. “Sorry I have no clue what you just said so…” He stares at me in disbelief. I stare right back, toe to toe. Staring contest. I watch him as he starts to sweat. And not just cuz it’s hot. Which it is. But I mean he starts pouring sweat. Cold sweat. And he turns pale and his face gets this look like he’s just seen a ghost. Oh shit. “Hey man, are you alright? You don’t look…” Before I can get anything out, something in his face changes and he suddenly goes from fear to anger and starts screaming it into the air. “Mooltigan! Mooltigan! MOOLTIGAN! MOOOOOOOOOOL. TIIIIIIII. GAAAAAAAAAN! MOOOOOOOOOOL. TIIIIIIII. GAAAAAAAAAN! MOOLTIGAN!” He was jumping up and down. His limbs were flopping around as if he had no control over any of them. I was rooted to my spot. My legs were cement. I had no idea what was going on. He finally ran out of breath on that last Mooltigans. He was drenched in sweat. We stared at each other as he huffed and puffed and I didn’t dare breathe.
Something in me stirred and I knew what I had to do. “Ah! Yes! Of course! Mool… Yeah I’ll take 6 of ‘em!” I said triumphantly and smiled. Fuck it, I’ll eat this Mooltigans for the next 3 days. Whatever the fuck they are.
He got so excited. Jesus Christ. Like he’d won the lottery, this guy! Started dancing, laughing. Then he clapped his hands and spun around a few times before he found his latex glove box. He moved with enthusiasm and grace and speed I had not seen in hairy Mexican adults my whole life. I must have been his first sale of the day. Maybe EVER. I’ll never know. As he bagged those rolls, his hands were trembling with happiness. He couldn’t contain himself.
He rang me up but the machine didn’t give me a total. He just looked at me with a smile. I looked at him waiting for him to tell me the total. But he didn’t. So we kept staring. After 20 seconds of staring like that, I started sweating cuz it was so goddamn weird and he didn’t seem to be playing so I just gave him a $20 and nodded. He gave me some bills, a quarter and a huge smile but no words. I didn’t bother to count the bills. I just wanted to get outta there as fast as possible.
When I got home I counted the change. The guy was so nervous he gave me back $19 bucks and that quarter. I paid $75 cents for 6 rolls or radioactive lumpy bread. Unbelievable. What a deal.
Suddenly I realized how hungry I was. I opened the bag and bit into a roll.
There’s no story if not for this. I kid you not it was the most amazing tasting thing I’ve ever had in my entire life.
To say that it was bread, would be saying too little. It wasn’t anything I can describe. It was more like nothing, which is in itself indescribable. And as I chewed this alien shit, I finally understood it. The nothing. I ate the whole roll right there in the kitchen with my eyes closed and when I opened them up, for the first time in a long time I felt at peace. Neither happy nor upset. Neither angry nor tired. I laid down on the couch and just stared at my ceiling. Thinking about nothing. I think.
When I came back to earth, it was dark and the moon was out. Crickets cricked. The sound of an ambulance and the sound of an 18 wheeler down the street. I was fully in the moment. None of my thoughts had anything to do with me. I felt no anxiety.
I walked to the bedroom, slowly, and differently. When I sat down, my back was straight and I felt no pain above my ass. I began to pound away at the plastic keys. I was still sweating from the heat, but it didn’t bother me anymore. Only the character in my story. I was free to care about nothing. Just to write. I wrote and I didn’t question what I was writing. For the first time in my life I felt free. Free from that job, free from my parents, free from society, free from my own preconceived notions that were the amalgamations of all of the above distilled into the judgment of good and bad, of trite and original.
I wrote for 4 days straight. When I closed my eyes, I didn’t sleep. Didn’t need to. When I awoke, I didn’t smoke. Didn’t crave it.
Sunday rolled around and I continued writing. Didn’t go to the beach. Didn’t want to.
I ate a radioactive roll of nothing every day and sometimes one at night. And when Monday morning came, it wasn’t sudden and I didn’t groan or complain or hate my life. I simply jumped in the shower and put on the suit. Everything had changed as if I had simply decided that it should. I decided that it should stay permanent too, that even though it all happened because of Jorge’s rolls, I didn’t need them to keep going like this. And I didn’t. And it did. And I won. The End.
Wait. I bet you thought this story would end differently, didn’t you? Let me guess. You thought that by Friday I’d get less clear about it all. Start getting confused. The pain would come back in the small of my back, the anxiety would slowly creep in, my mind would start racing, and I wouldn’t know my ass from a dog’s dick again. I bet you thought I’d go back to Jorge’s the following weekend only to find that Jorge and his shop were gone. And in its place there was only some dinky flower shop, perhaps. And I’d look at it all confused and then take a few steps back from the curb and onto the street, looking around, checking to see if maybe it was the next block over… and then I’d walk into that little flower shop and ask the cute little Mexican flower shop girl, “Hey, what happened to Jorge and his bakery?” and she’d look at me all weird and say “I dunno whatchu talkin bout mister, what bakery?” And I’d start waving my hands impatiently “You know… there was a bakery here just last week! I was here! Jorge’s Bakery! What happened to it? Did it close down or…?” And she’d get this look on her face like I’m the crazy one. “Mooltigans! MOOLTIGANS! MOOL.TI.GANS!” So she’d take a step back all bewildered and scared. “Uh… Sir… I… this shop has been around since like the 1980s or something but I dunno cuz I’ve only been working here for like 6 months and I don’t know of any Jorge or bakery here but would you like to buy a tulip? They’re on sale today for 12.99 a dozen!?” And then she’d smile. And I’d stare at her in silence, the way he did to me, with that fear building in me and her but for different reasons. And the Twilight Zone theme music would start playing and I’d run out of the store and sprint back home and pack my bags and get on the first flight out to Hong Kong to find her and win her back before it’s too goddamn late and she’s already forgotten me. Instead of writing the real ending to this story.
But that’s just not what happened now is it.