by Luis Rivas
There is no truth. There is only perception. – Gustave Flaubert
I wake up. Hangover’s not too bad. I lift off the cut-out carpet that I’m using as a blanket. I locate my briefcase (imitation leather but still looks damn expensive) which I stole from the Salvation Army Thrift Store. I get out a compact, look at myself in the tiny mirror, studying my face for any new blemishes, exaggeratedly grinning to expose my teeth and inspect my gums. Still bleeding, still receding. I pat my hard, dirty hair down with open palms, locate the bottle of Vodka and dab some behind each ear and underneath each armpit. I take a long pull and start my day. The abandoned house off of Cedros Ave and Bessemer St in this small, forgotten corner in the industrial part of Van Nuys is a great spot to be invisible. I know that. That’s why I’m here.
I go into the liquor store, smile at the clerk behind the counter. She rolls her eyes. She hates me. I always smell like Vodka and shit, she says. And that my breath always, ALWAYS, smells like pickles and garbage, followed by something angry in Spanish. She hates me. I walk over to the coffee machine, glancing back at her to see if she’s still looking at me, if she’s still hating me with her eyes. The coast is clear. I open up the briefcase, take out an old empty coffee cup and sneak myself a drink. The clerk is busy with a long line of customers so I have time to add some sugar and cream. The store’s filled with people. I walk out unnoticed. Sometimes it’s nice to be invisible.
I walk over to the payphone. I call the office.
“Hi, it’s Trey.”
“Oh… Ok,” answers a lady receptionist.
“How are you?”
“Busy,” she lies.
“Fine, good, good. Hey, listen. Yea, busy over here too. Great. Hey, listen. The other day I unloaded 100 pieces of Leisure Time at $200; that’s $2 each! Commission check’s gonna be good on that one. Hey, is Steve around? He said he’d have a check waiting for me there, for the last three orders. All deals went through. Can I stop by today to pick it up? It’s there, right?”
“Uh, who’s this again?”
I’m put on hold. Four minutes go by and then a click. The lady hangs up. I’m out of money.
I go over to the porn shop up the street. They like me there. I’m respected. Hope the manager isn’t there. He thinks he’s hot shit.
“Hey Trey,” says the manager.
“Oh, hi! Didn’t expect you to be in so early; thought maybe you were gonna call in this morning. Thought I saw you in Hollywood. Figured you’d be tired, you know, partying and all.”
“What do you want, Trey?” says the manager. He’s in a hurry to shut me up. Obviously, there’s some truth to what I am saying. Obviously.
“Me? Well, nothing. Just thought I’d drop in and see if you’d be interested in this deal I got with these comps –“
“How much?” he says, cutting me off.
“For you, ‘cause I like you, I’ll let ‘em go, say, $2.25 a piece. Vivid four-hour comps. Good shit, from beginning to end. Hardcore. Usually, I’d sell ‘em for $3 but I know how the owners are and plus, more than that, I like you.”
“Hey, I’m not gonna beg, man! This is a good deal. I don’t NEED to break my balls to unload it on you at that rate; I can go up the street, sell ‘em for 3-to-4-bucks a pop, no problem. Just figured I’d let you in on it first but fine.”
“We get ‘em for $1.75. Is that it? If you’re not gonna buy anything, you need to leave.”
“I might check out a movie real quick, maybe. Got some time to kill before I go into the office. Gonna pick up a NICE check. Oh yea. Nothing too big, you know, about $500 straight.”
“Not bad,” he says, eagerly trying to get away, pretending to be doing work on the computer or randomly opening up the DVD drawers and going through them as if he’s looking for a specific DVD.
“Haha, nope! Not at all. Yup, yup, just a poor black man tryin’ ta make it in America, you know?”
The manager doesn’t make eye contact with me. I notice a hot, steaming burrito on the counter wrapped in foil with a large cup of soda. I haven’t eaten in three days.
“Say, that looks pretty good. Where’d you get that?”
I haven’t eaten in three days.
“The corner hamburger stand,” he says from somewhere behind the counter.
I haven’t eaten in three days.
“The other day I was at this restaurant slash bar in Hollywood. I forget the name off the top of my head but anyway I had me a nice, NICE meal. Steak and lobster. With a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. You drink wine? You probably do. Anyway, nice meal. The steak, I tell you, you can’t BEAT that deal. So tender. And the lobster? Man! Covered in hot, creamy butter. Talking about it just makes the mouth water, don’t it? You like lobster? It’s expensive but I tell you it’s worth it. I mean, hey, you only live once, right? It’s nice to splurge every now and then. I mean, if you got the money. Luckily, I do. What was the name of the place? Lotus something. Tell you what, I’ll go home and get the number. Call ‘em, get some reservations. Mention my name.”
“Sure,” the manager says, completely believing me, humbled, embarrassed by my opulence.
“I’m gonna leave this here, gotta hit the head real quick. Too much coffee!” I say, handing my briefcase over to him.
First I piss then I take off my shirt and scrub my chest and belly with the hand soap and some crumpled-up paper towels. Next I wash my face, scrub real hard behind my ears and on my neck. I take off my shoes and wash my feet in the toilet. I hear a knock on the door.
“Anyone in there? You’re taking too long. Customers are waiting,” says the security guard.
“Just a minute!”
I take off my pants, wash my dick and balls in the sink with the hand soap. I pat myself down as fast as possible with most of the roll of paper towels. I feel good and clean.
“Ah, sorry about that. Too much coffee!”
They all believe me.
I stop by the counter where they have a bottle of hand sanitizer and pump a good amount of it into my hands. Some globs spill to the floor. The security guard looks angry at this so I smear it with my foot.
“Thanks,” says the guard, sarcastically.
“Say, Trey, where’s your car? I don’t see it in the parking lot,” says the guard, trying to bait me.
“The parking lot? Come on, man. I aint gonna leave my brand-new leased Lexus out there! You nuts?! No offense guys, but I just don’t feel safe leaving it here with these, uh, you know, TYPES of people…”
“Where’d you park it then, Trey?” says the guard, not letting it slide.
I ask for my briefcase back from the manager. He eagerly hands it back to me. I dig into it and pull out my cell phone.
“Hello? Oh, hey, listen I’m on my way to pick up that check. Yea, I moved all the Leisure Times. Yup. Well, c’mon now, it’s Trey you’re talking to, baby!” I say into the phone walking out, waving goodbye with my free hand to the manager and the suspicious motherfucking security guard and saying that I’ll stop by later, yea, yea, ok and I’ll get the name and number of that steak and lobster place, sure, and maybe watch a movie if I got time.
Outside I put the phone away. It’s been disconnected for about two months now. They say I owe them $249 before they can turn on the phone. I can still call my number from the pay phone to check my messages. But there’s no point. I only get messages from the collection agencies and every now and then one from my mom but I hate talking with her; she worries too much and she’s hard to lie to.
I walk back up to toward the liquor store. A lady in a business suit gets out of the restaurant next to the porn shop. I ask her for spare change. She smiles at me. She wants me. She gives me fifty cents. People sometimes give and sometimes, most of the time, they don’t. I say thank you. On the corner the light is red. There’s a small crowd of men and women in business suits, probably lawyers. I ask them for spare change. The women don’t hesitate. I smile at them as they dig into their purses and give me change. They are almost eager to give it to me, and smile. The men are different. They just look the other way and suck hard on the straws in their sodas. They are breathing in through their noses. He smells, I hear one of the men say.
I have about $1 now. I think about the burrito. I think about calling the office and trying to get that check that Steve owes me from about three months ago. Back at the place on Cedros Ave I still got a box of Leisure Time 4-hour porno compilations. Cheap shit. Instead of paying me for the last order, they gave me the box, telling me it’s worth over $200. It’s true, it is. The only problem is selling it. People just wanna buy five or ten here and there. Never the entire box and now it’s too late to sell the fucking thing as a whole because I’ve sold about four of ‘em, buck fifty each. Needed to eat. This was about three maybe four days ago. But Steve still owes me. At least $200. Maybe $500. I forget. Fucking Steve. If I ever see that motherfucker, I’m gonna be like, “Hey, bitch! Where’s my money? Huh, fag? Just give me my money and there won’t be no problems, ya Chatsworth little preppie fuck!” And he’d start crying, begging me not to hit him, “oh please Trey, PLEASE, I fucked up! On accident, I swear! I lost track of the invoices and it’s been busy. You’re my best salesperson, you know that!” And I’d say, “Yea, that’s right. Get off your fucking knees. Suck my dick, you say? Nah, it’s cool, I aint no fag, bitch. Just give me my money and we cool. Thanks. Now get the fuck outta here before I change my mind and stomp on your ass, you BITCH.” And he’d run and I’d have my money and I’d go down to Sepulveda Blvd and get me a nice big-tittied hooker with long, flowing and shiny fake hair, on highheels, with thick 99-Cent-Store bought lipstick, the kind that smears so sloppily all over your dick like a melting red crayon. And I’d go down to that one place in Hollywood where I see all the Hummers and BMWs parked out front, Lotus something, and I’d get me the big-tittied black bitch as an escort to walk in with and everyone will be like, DAMN, is that Trey? Ooowee, who that bitch on his arm? And we’d just walk right on by straight to the bar and order some Patron and celebrate being so happy, being so well off and privileged. Life will be good.
I walk into the liquor store, say hi to the clerk behind the counter. Same Spanish lady. She gives me a dirty look. I smile back. I walk over to the beer fridges and go down, all the way down, to the very bottom row and pull up a Magnum 32 ouncer. $1.49. Not including tax and CRV. I bring it up to the counter. “$1.71,” the clerk says. I reach into my pocket knowing how much money I have exactly. I pull out $1.01. A penny was stuck to the inside of the small little front right pant pocket.
“You short,” she says.
“Right. By 70 Cents. You know what, shit, I must’ve dropped the rest of my change outside,” I say, slowly motioning toward the door as if I’m really going outside to look for the change, hoping she’d tell me not to worry about it, next time, next time.
“Ok. I hol’ beer here,” she says, holding the beer in her hand.
“Ah, ok. Be right back!”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.
I go outside. No other choice. I look on the ground for change. Nothing. I ask a few people, making sure I am out of sight from the clerk inside the store. Nothing. After about two minutes I come back in rubbing my chin. I lean on the counter, looking like I’m thinking hard, squinting my eyes, whispering the words “FUCK, where did I drop my 20-dollar-bill?” She doesn’t understand English all that well but knows something is up.
“You hab sebendy cents?”
“I don’t know what happened. Tell ya what, next time I’ll drop a couple bucks, you know, for this little inconvenience. Deal?” I smile.
“You already owe. $10 from las time.”
“Now wait just a second! I paid that off! This is criminal! What you are doing, this, right now: trying to rob me! That’s just not right!” I begin yelling. All the customers look at us. She is embarrassed. There are no security guards at the liquor store. I haven’t paid a dollar off of that tab.
“Shh, no scream!”
“YOU CAN’T ROB A HARD WORKING, DECENT MAN. You people come here, take OUR jobs, rip US off! Do you know who I am, how much money I got in the bank? My card’s been stolen that’s why I’m short right now! Jesus Christ! Let me speak to your man—.” And before I can get out the word “manager” she bags the beer, says here, take it, GO. And I go.
I’m facing the payphone. I put the phone to my ear, holding it in place in between my shoulder and ear. I unscrew the bottle, poor some into my empty coffee cup. I start talking into the phone: “Yea, I’ll be in later to get the check. Nope, no kidding. $500, at least. Steve has a bonus for me? For going over the quota? Well, that’s nice of him, good ol’ Steve. Yea, yea, I’ll be in later.” I take breaks from talking to take sips from the cup. No one suspects anything; they can’t hear the phone’s dial tone.
After a while the beer is gone. I can feel the heat of the afternoon on my back and the drunken haziness go throughout my entire body making everything dull and blurry and good. I look out into the street and think about cashing my commission check, of all the money I’m going to get. First, I’d stop by the Goodwill, pick some new jeans up. Calvin Klein. A new shirt, too. Ralph Lauren. Designer only, everything. The lady behind the counter would say, “these are some nice pants; they’re going to look REAL good on you, doll.”
“Oh, thanks, toots. I only buy the designer stuff. The name’s Trey. Hey, all I got is this here $100 bill. Hope ya can break that. Say, what’s your name?”
And she’d say, “Kelly, sure, of course, doll!”
“Thanks. Hey, listen whatcha doin’ later?”
“Me? Not a thing, cutie.”
“Wanna grab a drink? I know this bar in Hollywood, real nice and cozy.”
“Ooo, Hollywood! Sure!”
“Great, ok, pick you up, say, around 8.”
“Ooo, sounds good!”
And I’d wink my cunt-moistening wink and the bitch won’t be able to wait to get piped. Yup.
“Excuse me, sir. Other people need to use the phone,” a man says, tapping me on the shoulder.
“Right, ok.” I grab my briefcase and walk toward Cedros Avenue, back home.
The doors and windows are all nailed shut with sheets of plywood except the one on the far corner, on the side of the house with the bushes facing Bessemer St. It’s a pretty good deal. I don’t have to share the squat with anyone. I get in through the window. At the bottom right corner is a book of matches and a candle (the flashlight ran out of batteries). I light it and walk toward my bedroom. I lay down my briefcase, take off my shoes and socks. I can hear the roaches scurry away from under the candle’s light. There’s a little bit left in the Vodka. I take my time in drinking it, no rush. I savor the sting. I slush it around in my mouth like mouthwash. This is my reward. I’ve worked hard, long day at the office; I deserve it. Can’t wait till I get those checks from Steve and finally move into a better place, TV dinners every night in front of a big-screen TV and eat out on the weekends with Kelly. We’ll be so happy. My Lexus will be paid off in full by then. I’d buy Kelly some new tits. We’d eat steak and lobster, juicy and peppered with giant flakes of black pepper and seasoning, a soft glowing candle in the middle of the table; and the waiter will come by and show us, first to me of course, a dark bottle of Chianti and I’d say, “mmm, good year, yes, thank you”; and we’d sit there for a minute just staring at each other, basking in this bliss, in all this romance and Kelly will say, “Trey, I love you with all my heart” and I’d say, “me too, babe, me too”; and nothing will exist outside of me and her, us. Life will be good.
The roaches stop bothering me when I’m drunk, when the candle burns out and I’m invisible; and it’s so dark that in that darkness my place feels huge like a mansion in the hills of the San Fernando Valley; and I can hear the wind blowing through the tall palm trees in my backyard and Kelly is sunbathing outside, ringing her bell for the butler to come and serve her another martini; and I’d say, “come inside babe, this bed’s too big for just me”; and I can hear her giggling and the little skewered olive clicking on the sides of the thin martini glass; and I hope she can make it to our lavish king-sized bed with the 500-thread-count sheets before I pass out and wake up covered in piss and malt liquor with the roaches crawling on my face in the darkness of this little shit hole squat in the industrial part of Van Nuys; and I hope Steve can buy back the box of porn and give me my checks; and I hope the Spanish lady at the liquor store can cash ‘em; and I hope my mom doesn’t suspect that her son is homeless and going insane, drinking and washing himself in the bathroom of a porn shop; and I hope Kelly can make it to bed before I can find the razor in the dark to slice my throat and wrists open.