Faded will be published in the upcoming issue of:
You can purchase a printed or PDF copy by clicking on the following link:
Faded will be published in the upcoming issue of:
You can purchase a printed or PDF copy by clicking on the following link:
Her large, sagging breasts were being held tightly against her body with one arm, while the other was preoccupied picking up coins falling out of her cleavage. For every coin that she picked up off the floor, four more came rushing out. A coin in the bosom was worth four on the floor. She was like a walking slot machine. The assorted coins dropping out of her clutched breasts chimed loudly. They jingled off the ground, waterfalling uncontrollably. For a brief moment, the clatter of coins clashing on the rubber-lined floors disrupted the smartphone consumption of some riders; others went unfazed.
The real gold was falling out of her fleshy lips. Whatever she was on granted her the ability to dig deep into her vocabulary for profanity that could easily proliferate within the bus’s physical space. With the force of a tornado, her words hit the ears of the riders, most of which began to dig through their purses and backpacks for earbuds, to drown away with music what she couldn’t with drugs. The threats she was making consisted of popping you in the mouth and demanding that you pay her 20 dollars. Like an actor reciting a well rehearsed Shakespeare soliloquy, she let out an eloquent and uninterrupted stream of “punk-ass bitches” and “I’m gonna kill that mothafucka.”
She was wearing a royal-blue sundress, with big sky-blue Hawaiian plumeria flowers printed all over it. It was concealing the lower half of her body, just below her bloated navel. Her voluptuousness was part of the reason why the dress hadn’t slid all the way off, down to her ankles. Her hair was dyed blonde and buzzed cut. Her make-up seemed to have been applied haphazardly and looked clownish at best. It did little to hide her age or the unfortunate experiences she had faced. Her expression was that of an angry, snarling bulldog trying to escape the rough petting of children.
After successfully gathering all of the wayward coins off the floor and under other patrons’ seats, she went back to the heap of bags she had placed near the rear exit. As she moved toward her large canvas bag, she released her breasts from their restraint. They descended like wet socks thrown over and teetering on a clothesline— bouncing up and down, swinging back and forth, side to side— restrained by a single clothespin. They were long and flat, like twin turbines on a fighter jet. Get too close and she would’ve knocked your head clean off.
“Don’t fucking touch me,” she yelled. Nobody was within a 3-foot radius from her. “I kick your mothafucking ass, mothafucka.” She was peering her head forward and pointing out the double Plexiglas doors. It almost looked as though she was arguing with her reflection, chasing her own shadow like a lost boy from Neverland. She was yet another victim of LA, the land of never-gonna-happen, where you can easily La-La your life away. The bystanders treat people like this bosomy lady as a mere inconvenience, a bump on the road. Other people don’t help because they can’t even help themselves. There we were, me on the road home and she on the road to perdition.
When I saw her large nipples making eye contact with me, I had to do a double take just to make sure my eyes were not deceiving me. My instinctive reaction was to look away and then sneak a look. Back and forth. Don’t look, then look. I was like a prudish maiden hiding her curiosity behind a delicately crocheted white lace fan. I couldn’t stop looking. I wanted to analyze her body and figure out where all of her scars and bruises had come from. When did all of the neglect that she and the citizens of the city inflicted on her begin to happen? When she noticed that I was admiring her large chest, she smiled and threw a penny at me. It was her way of saying “I see you looking at my titties. I’m glad you like them.” I was compelled to pick it up and return the coin she had so laboriously worked to collect a few moments ago, but I was apprehensive to do so due to her mercurial temper which could have turned on a dime from coy to destroy. From coquettishly rubbing her nipple to scrubbing the floor with me.
Using the same disruptive and imposing will with which she had thrusted herself into the bus’s rear exit, she now demanded the driver to stop the goddamned bus.
“Let me out, let me out,” she yelled. “Let me the fuck out.” She pulled up her dress and tucked her gelatinous breasts into it one by one. As she swung the cluster of bags onto her back, a dirty piece of cardboard fell out from one of them, like a dirty little secret. She exited the bus yelling at the top of her lungs, “Good morning, Beverly Hills.” It was 10:37 p.m., and we were in Hollywood. This elicited a “Shut the fuck up” from another patron who had slept through the whole debacle. He appeared to be a hybrid of the Snow White dwarves Sleepy and Grumpy. By the scent emanating from his direction, he could have also been Stinky, if ever the group of little men decided to incorporate an eighth member.
The sign left behind read:
Succinct. To the point. Twitter friendly.
The word “CHANGE” wasn’t followed by a question mark. Why bother? Did she even have a choice? Did we? She didn’t want to complicate her message or go over the character limit. It simply wasn’t in her character. I picked it up and took it with me when I exited the bus. I placed it on a bus bench. Maybe someone else would find it useful or inspiring. It definitely inspired me. That night, I lay in bed— wide awake— with the image of that woman’s sadness on my mind.
Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). Where I Hide With My Loneliness [Drawing]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles, CA.
A fiery yellow and orange light nestled itself gently up against a misty rose blue sky around 4:37 a.m. The sunrise awoke me in the same manner that an eager 4-year-old who has been up all night, too excited to sleep, wakes her parents. This capricious light lit my way and led me to a deserted bus stop. My main goal that day was to explore Downtown Vancouver. Little by little, people began to gather around the stop, forming a small, then larger crowd. A woman with a broom swept the trash by people’s feet, not to draw it into the trash can, rather to draw attention to herself. To her deplorable state.
“Excuse me,” she yelled at a young woman thumbing her phone. Her tone was accompanied by a level of annoyance that comes from not being appreciated. As she jumped out of the way, a muffled “thank you” drooped out of the downward facing sweeper. She continued to sweep hunched over with her tiny broom until she arrived at the ledge of the sidewalk, between the people and the road.
“Hello! Hello, people waiting for the bus,” she proclaimed, using the cleaning instrument as a baton, “my name is Alana and I sweep the streets every day.” She swapped the broom from her right hand to her left and outstretched it to the crowd. “Would you like to make a donation today?” Most people ignored her vulnerability, her cry for help. They had all heard that one before. Like a true artist, she kept going even as her performance fell onto deaf ears. Tough crowd.
After not having any luck with mass appeal, Alana tried a more personalized approach. She went up to a woman and asked her for a “humble donation.” The woman was talking to a man and didn’t seem to appreciate Alana’s humble interruption.
“Well, you’re humble psychologically, but you’re a fucking bitch,” the woman yelled as Alana walked away from her.
“Thank you,” Alana said as she wove through the crowd of people, continuing to ask for donations.
“Thank you? Thank yourself, fucking bitch.” At first sight, I would’ve judged things all wrong. Based on each woman’s physical appearance–Alana disheveled and the other dressed in a suit–I would’ve painted Alana as completely deranged and the other woman as completely sane. Truly I tell you, as my eyes and ears bore witness, the opposite was true. Even though Alana was missing a couple of teeth, it was the other woman that was missing a couple of marbles. However, these are necessary illusions. Necessary to keep up the charade, the bizarre parade that we call “normal.”
Later that day, after having had a nice meal, I walked out of the restaurant and a young man, who looked like he’d been dragged all across town and thrashed by the pleasures of drug use, looked at me indignantly.
“What is your wetback ass lookin’ at?” he squawked. His question, although begging for an answer, seemed to be rhetorical. Well, what was my “wetback ass” looking at, indeed? I was looking at a broken man with a broken heart trying to piece his life back together by smoking pieces of meth, trying to find a method in his madness. That’s what my wetback ass was looking at. I guess that would’ve been too long of an answer to a drive-by question. The irony of it all was that he himself was Hispanic. It has been my experience that people of our own race make the best racists. Call it introspective loathing.
One of my favorite parts of traveling to different cities is checking out the local public transit. It’s an arena ripe for people watching. If extraterrestrial beings ever wanted to see true human nature, their search would only be a half hour bus ride away. On the bus, in Vancouver as in LA, people find it uncomfortable making eye or physical contact with other strangers of any kind; accidentally or deliberately. The ripe scent of armpit sweat and sweaty ass are forces that even a decent deodorant and soap cannot combat. However, I really do like people. I like looking at them. At their quirks. At the things that they themselves would find repulsive while looking in a mirror. Most look away, but I want to walk through the looking glass. I like to take a big whiff of whatever olfactory cocktail the bus has shaken for me. Allow it to stir in my lungs. It’s the scent of life. A scene from the everyday. A sense of comfort in knowing that everything around me that is happening will bring me no harm. The sound of peace. I am surrounded by my kind. My people. It’s about feeling the good in the good people of Canada. Of the world.
Portland is a very clean city. The streets have lesser amounts of grime and trash than do its counterparts in LA. Splotches of forest green painted the sidewalks like a Jackson Pollock painting, if ever the artist used Canadian geese droppings in his work. They were furnished with four-headed fountains meant for citizens to wash their hands and freshen up. To help promote municipal cleanliness. This notion was further supported by signs on the side of trash cans that read “Pitch in! Help Keep Portland Clean.”
Outside of Union Station I witnessed the true manifestation and epitome of what cleanliness means. The vision came to me in the form of a man who was washing his butt at one of those four-headed fountains. It wasn’t a superficial cheek treatment. It was a deep scrub. With the same vigor that Moses parted the Red Sea, this man parted his red butt cheeks and scoured furiously as passersby scowled frantically. I felt like he was being quite anal about the whole thing. It didn’t seem to matter how many times he scrubbed, it still wasn’t clean enough for him. The police officer overlooking the whole thing was busy texting and chatting with a concerned passerby.
“I just let them tire themselves out,” he laughed. The passerby turned away. But I just had to look.
I soon made my way to Downtown Portland and was greeted by a light gentle drizzle. The silence, the clouds and the gloom excited me. The amount of moisture in the air is what brings about the greenery that the city is famous for. It’s more than a nice backdrop made up of innumerable Douglas firs. It is a benevolent virus that takes over concrete in the form of moss and building facades in the form of ivy. Portland’s green was a presence. It was alive.
As I continued to walk in the heart of downtown, I felt like someone was following me. I turned around and caught a glimpse of a disheveled young man. We made eye contact. After I refused to give him a cigarette, his face began to contort in ways that made mine do so as well out of concern. He began to walk towards me. The way that he was shaking his wrist and closing his fingers told me that he either wanted me to jerk him off or that he thought I was a jerk off. His tongue was prodding hard against his cheek as he let out a droning moan. My lack of empathy towards his situation gave me a small taste of the underlying “fuck you” attitude the city was vested in. A simple request gave way to the unravelling of this man’s darkest demons. Complexity evolves from simplicity.
I needed to pull cash out of an ATM to catch a bus to my place of lodging, so I went into the nearest convenience store, the Plaid Pantry. A soft spoken old lady in front of me asked the clerk for a pack of cigarettes and the clerk turned around and placed two packs on the glass counter.
“No, I said two packs of Camel Regular 99s,” the old lady said sternly. “These are Light.” The clerk took the packs off the counter and let out an audible sigh. She turned around and placed the correct packs.
“Ok, that’s gonna be $10,” the clerk said. The old lady started to rummage through her purse looking for her wallet.
“Do you guys still buy back bottles and cans?”
“Yeah, we do. Every day except Tuesday.” The lady’s rummaging began to get louder.
“Well, this morning my two grandkids came in with some bags full of bottles a…”
“Alright, let me stop you right there,” the clerk butted in. “I turned them away because they were sneaking around in the back.” The old lady finally found her wallet and slammed it on the counter. “I don’t have to buy bottles from people I don’t trust.”
“If you didn’t want to buy them, then why didn’t you return the bottles?” The old lady pulled money out and shoved it into the clerk’s hand. The clerk took the money and threw the change at the old lady.
“Thank you and get the fuck out. You’re a piece of shit like your two grandkids.” She flicked a business card towards the old lady with the website where she could air her grievance. “Go ahead and complain about me. I don’t give a fuck. I’m the manager.”
“I will complain,” the old lady yelled as she exited the store.
“Whatever, go fuck yourself.” The store and everyone in it was momentarily hushed in awe. Other shoppers started to congratulate the clerk for standing her ground. She smiled at me letting me know it was now my turn.
“Hi, how may I help you?” she asked. Her tone had gone from barbaric to bubbly. This woman was either really good at hiding her emotions or had multiple personality disorder. Either way, now it was my turn to pretend that what had just happened hadn’t shocked me in the slightest way.
Portlanders truly embrace who they are. Embracing their inner weird. They strive to do so even if it comes as rude or indifferent. Together, they strive to “KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD.”
The scent of urine crowded the whole bus. Groups of people were trying to avoid it by pinching their noses and lifting their shirt collars to cover the lower half of their faces. The man from whom the scent was emanating was pleasantly unaware of the effect his body odor was having on his fellow man. He was wearing a red and white pashmina wrapped around his head like a turban, three layers of jackets, soiled silver pants and black combat boots. He would’ve looked adorable as part of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. But anywhere outside of that context, he looked otherwise.
“Woah, it smells like piss in here,” a young man yelled upon entering the bus. The young man was carrying a large bushel of incense and was selling it for two dollars.
“Well, that’s why you selling incense,” another passenger replied.
“Sometimes smell can’t fix what water can.”
“Don’t know if you should hose down the mothafuckin’ seat or the mothafucka himself, though.”
The smell had burglarized so many of the available oxygen particles that I was afraid to breathe. I didn’t want its persistent essence to invade my nasal cavity and seep into my palate to the point where I could taste it. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t be.
When a constrained metal shaft is full of adults sweating the sweat of a full day’s work, the temperature can elevate really fast. The man kept shaking one of his jacket collars, patting it against his chest in an attempt to stay cool. In the process, he was billowing out puffs of noxious smells compounding on top of the notes he had already given us. I felt like I was a few puffs away from jumping out of the bus early and braving the remaining blocks on foot. Like me, the man had also reached his limit and began to strip off the layers of jackets.
“Fuck, is hot in here,” he said. Every garment he removed was slammed on the empty seat next to him, followed by “shit.” By the time he had worked his way down to a white wife-beater, the stench had transfigured into its final form. People scrambled to open whatever bus windows were still closed and dug their heads deeper into their shirts. The scent was oppressive. We all had no other choice but to comply with it. To just sit there and take it.
When the bus finally arrived at my stop, I wove my way through the packed crowd as fast as I could. The prospect of breathing clean air was all I could think of. As I made my way to catch my next train, I realized that the city was filled with unpleasant smells. Some emanating from people and others from the streets. Regardless of where the smells were coming from, together they smelled familiar. They smelled like home.
It was a slow ride from work to home on the bus. I was trying to make eye contact with some people, mostly attractive women, staring at my phone and listening to the same songs yet again. Simply minding my own business.
“Ah, ah, ah!” yelled a man at the top of his lungs. Everyone on the bus immediately turned to see what was going on; partly out of concern and partly out of scandal. The man’s head was shaking and his body was rocking back and forth. The yelling intensified as did the interest of the other passengers. A college-aged girl pulled out her phone and began to record the incident. This man’s embarrassingly painful episode would make a great Instagram post, not to be missed.
The bus driver began to yell at him like an angry mother does her rowdy kids in the back seat.
“Sir! Are you alright?” she asked. The man’s yelling ceased.
“What? Yeah, miss, I’m OK” he replied.
“Are you sure you’re fine?”
“Yeah. Why? What happened?”
“You were yelling like a maniac.” The driver stopped the bus nowhere near a bus stop or red light. She got out of her seat and walked all the way back to where the man was sitting. She wanted to get to the bottom of this. “Listen, I’m going to call the Fire Department so they can check you out.”
“Miss, you don’t have to do that.” The man started to look at the people who were transfixed on him. “See, it’s all your fault. Now they’re going to beat me up again.”
The driver went back to her seat and made an announcement. “Folks, I’m going to call the fire department so that this gentleman can get some help.” People murmured amongst themselves. “It’s gonna take a couple of minutes for them to arrive. I’ll flag down the next bus so you can board it.”
A mass exodus of people fleeted the bus onto the sidewalk. I stayed. I wanted to see what would happen when the firefighters got there. A few minutes later, the sound of sirens became more prominent as the crimson lights bathed more and more of the streets.
The firefighters boarded the bus and began to interrogate the man, in the same fashion as you would a child of four.
“Sir, are you OK?” one firefighter asked as he crouched down with his hands on his knees.
“Look, I don’t want you guys to beat me up again and cut up all my clothes,” the man implored.
“Sir, we’re not going to beat you up,” another firefighter said, “we simply want to check your blood pressure.”
“I don’t want you touching me,” the man became more agitated. “It’s all these people’s fault.” He turned to look at the few people still remaining on the bus. “Why they have to call you? If they were so concerned, they should’ve just woke me up. Shit.”
“Sir, they called us because they thought you were having a seizure.”
“I was having no seizure,” the man yelled, “Shit, I was just having a bad dream.” He looked at one of the firefighters with a sullen look. “All I want to do is get home to LA. I just came from an office where they were supposed to give me $7000.” He turned to face the passengers again. “I fought for all of y’all and this is how you repay me?”
“Sir, we don’t care. We just want to see if you’re OK,” the other firefighter replied.
When the firefighters realized that the man was fine, they told the driver that they were going to leave. The firefighters’ exit prompted the people that left the bus in a hurry to board it again.
“Y’all are a bunch of bitch ass snitches,” the man implored, “Punk ass. Bitch ass. Snitches. Can’t a man have a bad dream?” People began snickering and laughing like children at their senile grandfather.
The bus driver continued on her route as if nothing had happened, because according to the man, nothing had happened. The man kept grumbling nonsense to himself and to anyone else who would listen. He eventually went back to sleep. It had been a long day for him. So long it induced a violent nightmare.
No one seemed to care. Not even him.
Riding to work on public transportation is a big tease; it only takes you half the way there. In total, I end up taking four modes of transportation: on foot, light and heavy rail and wheels. I’ve endured hellish commutes on crumbling roads while standing for two or more hours with nothing but a bar to hold on to. One thing I am thankful for is that there’s always something to see out of the windows and inside the bus.
Walking down the steps into the cavernous subterranean train station already resembles what sticking your head into the toilet of a porta potty would smell like. Now imagine actually doing it and having to breathe in that heavy suffocating toxic air for about 4 to 7 minutes, depending on how late the trains are running that day. Sometimes the homeless mischievously defecate on the penultimate step from the top of most flights of stairs in the subway stations. Their placement of it demonstrates a cognizance of what stepping on it could mean to somebody. I wonder if the perpetrator—like a John Hancock of scatology—is still present as people arrive or if it’s just a hit and run, one and done type of affair. Well, in this case, a deuce and done.
Those unfortunate souls that do step on it, are too far away from home to just go back and change. Their day is utterly ruined. As if someone had taken a huge dump on it. It’s the homeless’s way of protesting, of calling attention to their soiled state by using biological weapons. Dirty bombs. Gorilla warfare. The pile of fecal matter is placed there playfully the way a friend sends you a poop emoji. It waits there patiently in your unread messages, but when you open it, it is received more like the unnerving and unpleasant surprise of a dick pic. I always look out for these steaming piles as a preemptive all round defense in the forms of self-preservation and saving face, but also with a sense of dreaded anticipation when I do see them and welcomed forlorn when I don’t. My morning bay of pigs. I just hope that the day never comes when it hits the fan.
On one of the stops, a man that walked into the bus and proceeded to sit a few seats behind me. On his face, he wore an unflinching smile like the one on the cover of the graphic novel “V for Vendetta.” He smelled of wet clothes and armpit sweat, of strong steaming earl grey tea and a dirty mop head left out sopping on the floor. His smile also reminded me of one I had seen on my high school friend’s face after he had boldly stated that he could make me smell his asshole from where I was sitting; he was on one end of the room and I on the other. At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about, then my nostrils helped me understand. The chain reaction of the noxious smell grazing my nasal receptors followed by my nose shrugging uncomfortably brought as a result a smile to my friend large enough to cover the face of the moon like that on a vintage Victorian trade card. This indignantly stinky man kept closing the windows that people would opened to ventilate the stink out. The outside air wasn’t any pleasanter, feeling the breeze full of debris. Wearing a mere t-shirt, he was hotboxing us in the process of keeping himself warm, until someone told the driver on him and made him stop.
The awkward instance was broken by a boisterous ambulant seller of incense bursting into the bus. “Y’all wanna buy some incense!” he shouted as he walked up and down the aisle. His voice along with the aromatic scent emanating from the thick bundle of incense sticks he was carrying filled the entirety of the car. He was selling them for $2. Tied to his belt were a couple of jingle bells that served as an accompaniment to his light fairy-like steps. His skinny waist whipped side to side like a samba that swung so cool and swayed so gently. The potent yet pleasing scent lingered for a bit after he had exited the bus then slowly dissipated. Its ephemeral olfactory illusion gave way to the more permanent smell of real dirty arse.
There are times when the bus’s pseudo-cataclysmic oscillation and turbulence create a rocking-cradle effect accompanied by a soothing berceuse from the white noise of people’s indistinct chatter along with the engine’s eurythmic clatter that lulls you to a deep sleep. The tepid and stagnant air circulating the cylindrical vehicle provided the perfect balance of carbon dioxide poisoning and fumes being funneled from the engine, a concoction just lethal enough to induce sleep, not death. You try to fight it, but you can’t and helplessly drift into an abysmal slumber. Next thing you know, you’re casting your sails down the waters of the Lethe. Sitting in a rocking chair on a porch over-looking the river, smoking a pipe whose smoke floats lazily upwards is Morpheus gently petting and stroking Cerberus’s three heads slowly and lovingly. You’re sleeping like you rarely do in the comfort of your own bed. It’s so good you would swear you were hopped on Temazepam. Suddenly, as if guided by GPS gone rogue, your boat makes a sharp turn towards the river Styx. You lose control of your dream and you’re instantly transported back to the world of the living. You’re awake. Groggy in a bus that has barely crawled past one stop.
I looked around to see who or what had disturbed my slumber and scared off the often hasty and desultory Hypnos. I soon realized that to my left, there was a man slurping his coffee with short sharp slurps. Every, few, seconds. To my right, there was another man slurping his coffee, long and amorously as if trying to make either the white Styrofoam cup or himself reach orgasm. Helplessly absorbed in their smartphone merely enjoying their coffee, I was haplessly consumed in my egotistical aspersion, writhing with irascibility. I truly felt like they were somehow waiting for me to relax in order to slurp again, like a jack in the box striking at the very moment you least expect it and are most vulnerable. The slurps emanating from these men were staggered, never in unison. It was like listening to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” with slurping. A cacophonous sound resembling what Hendrix’s “National Anthem” must have sounded to the ears of the unsuspecting parents of Woodstock attendees. The sounds produced by their lips’s suction—their whirring with the plastic flip door on the lid—alluded a sound more similar to fellating than drinking. They were the ones slurping yet I was the real sucker for not moving and finding a different seat.
One night, a young man sick from either too much alcohol consumption or a bad reaction to a bacon-wrapped hot dog purchased off of one of the many street vendors that line the sidewalks, was quietly vomiting into a garbage can. The very next day, that same garbage can served as a horn of plenty to a man who was gorging himself from the heap of discarded foodstuffs bursting out of it. His cup runneth over. It looked as if the garbage can was about to explode and vomit its rotting contents all over the street. In spite of the passers by judgmental glares in the presence of such grotesqueries, this dispossessed epicure was extraordinarily committed to his hearty fare. It’s a one way ticket for this man. It took me so long to find this out, to find out that like most of my commutes, this voyeuristic single course freak show was merely a one night stand, to be repeated again tomorrow, with different people in a different place and time.