Low Flying Panic Attack

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.

Bilicko, C. (2014). Interment 4 [Painting]. Acrylic on canvas, Long Beach, CA.

Heaven Send Hell Away

A couple of weeks after Chris Cornell died, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of him covering Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U“. His performance was angelic, prophetic, haunting. I had heard it sung before by Sinéad O’Connor and by The Artist himself, but the emotions transmitted by Cornell’s raspy raunchy baritone voice, were visceral and raw. They denuded him, stripped away his rock star pretension, leaving behind his voice and guitar. He may have been a pop icon, he may have been a sex symbol, he may have been dead for under a month, but it wasn’t until I heard him sing “It’s been so lonely without you here, like a bird without a song, nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling,” that the weight of his absence truly made my heart and tear ducts heavy with blood and tears.

I don’t react to these kinds of things immediately. It took me months to process my grandparents’ passing. The only two people I have lost. I’m slow at feeling the feelings I’m supposed to feel. It’s not emotional numbness; it’s more like emotional dumbness. Sometimes I don’t know how to feel. I just sit there, through experiences, taking in the life-altering stimulus, not knowing what to do with it.

I first heard of the news via a Twitter hashtag (#ChrisCornell). As soon as I saw it, I feared the worst. My life started to flash before my eyes. At least the parts in which the music of Cornell played in the background. I thought of childhood summers in Tijuana, Mexico, running around in my grandmother’s asymmetrical lopsided house. My uncles, then angsty teenagers, blasted grunge music through loud speakers, whose sound made every window in the house shake to a point just below shattering.

I remembered the countless times I spent hanging out at my cousin Melly’s house, watching music videos on MTV. Melly and I were very close; she was like an older sister. I don’t know if it was because she debriefed me before I began my first year of middle school or because we used to make out with each other when we were younger. In any case, the week before school started, her kissing mentorship reached its point of culmination.

“If a girl asks you if you want to scam, you always say ‘Yes’,” she advised.

“What if I don’t like her?” I asked.

“You still want to do it. If you don’t, then people will think you’re gay.” That made sense. In the same way that I saw her as an older sibling, she saw me as her little brother, and at times, her little sister.

“Why are you putting make up on me?” I asked her as she applied eyeliner à la Brandon Lee circa “The Crow.”

“‘Cause it makes guys look really hot,” she answered emphatically. Her enthusiasm and intrepid application were good enough reasons for me. “Besides, Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain both do it too.” I smiled with the unabashed smile of a blind man. I was obsessed with Cornell’s band, Soundgarden and their latest single at the time, “Black Hole Sun.” Both the song and the music video haunted me like nothing before. It felt emotionally heavy, yet it was as easy to listen to as a lullaby. It sounded familiar, like a Beatles or Led Zeppelin song and at the same time like nothing else I had ever heard.

I had a pretty refined ear when it came to rock music, having been raised by my mom’s brothers on a diet that consisted of classic rock. Soundgarden and Cornell’s voice fit in seamlessly into my frame of reference like my ass did into my cousin’s Levi’s 501 jeans.

Mourning Chris Cornell’s death was, in part, the mourning of a death that had taken place long before his. That of my relationship with Melly. Of a time when I used to look up to people, like Cornell, and not down at their most deplorable flaws. His death reminded me of Melly, how she was always there for me and how she didn’t care about my fucked up family situation. Partly because she was so cool and partly because hers was as fucked up as mine. Our mothers were sisters, after all.

I felt disappointed in myself because I let both of my friends slip away. I abandoned them. I never went to see Chris Cornell perform live when he toured LA. I didn’t even try. I took him for granted. It’s been a while since I’ve reached out to my cousin and her daughters, the oldest now the same age we were in the nineties, back when we were wearing eyeliner and trying to be cool. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

In my mind’s ear, nothing will ever compare to Chris Cornell’s powerful soulful singing, one that hooked me from the first listen. A voice that had been an invisible playmate in our sororal gatherings. The sun will wash away the rain, but never the raindrops falling from my eye. The tears for a man that took the sunshine with him and left behind a black hole.

Heart in a Brown Paper Bag

Someone once told me that Portland is a combination of San Francisco and Seattle. Having been to San Francisco twice before and spent a few days in Portland, my excitement to experience Seattle came as no surprise. It was like meeting someone’s mom and younger sister and imagining how that person would look like based on how attractive those two people were. On the long four-hour train ride there, I started to get a jittery feeling in my stomach the closer we got to the downtown station. I could hardly wait to get there and see it.

Visiting other cities—in the US or elsewhere—brings up the question of “Could I live here if the opportunity presented itself?” I’ve discovered that a city, while you’re vacationing there, behaves similar to a person on a really good first date. Seattle, Washington was no different. Everything you say is funny, every quirk is adorable and nothing about them can be considered negative. Even their curt assholeness is seen as assertive, as charming. Seeing another city? That’s totally fine with Seattle, because it will do things that the city you’ve got at home will not. Seattle will be a slut for you. You know your home city too well. There are no surprises, no fireworks.

Seattle didn’t care to know why I was considering leaving LA, and I really wasn’t concerned with its past either, or its crime and homelessness. The grime on and under its streets or the time I’ll have to waste on its trafficked highways and crowded public transit. Seattle and I wanted to start something fresh.

I booked a small room for four days in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Each day was an opportunity to get to know this place a little better, like going on back-to-back dates. I wanted to spend all day and night getting to know Seattle’s streets and shops and explore its seductive and supple body of water. To take in its beautiful Sound. There was this intense creative energy in the air. One that made me feel at home.

Like most annoying qualities in a person, most are not apparent at first, even though they have always been there, in plain sight. Maybe we choose to ignore them, or the person we like does a great job at suppressing them. In any case, when these qualities do reveal their ugly heads, they do so with an unperceptive slowness. The things that were once cute about them soon become unbearable. Initially, I really enjoyed having mini conversations with coffee-shop employees. They were courteous and took the time to shoot the shit. But after a few days, it started to become a chore, an obligation. Sometimes, I just wanted to order coffee, pay for it and leave. That’s it. Their shit-shooting also started to distract me. Their deconstruction of how faithful the adaptation of Captain America from its comic-book source material to the cinema screen was piercing through my every thought.

“You just have a bunch of ripped dudes running around,” a bearded beanie-wearing barista ranted, “fighting each other and they pay no attention to what the characters really stand for.” The other barista and customers at the counter agreed, anxiously awaiting their turn to get on a soapbox of their own.

This sense of urgency coursing through me is probably something that rubbed off on me from LA. It’s a quality that Seattleites don’t really appreciate and one that I myself hate in other people. It seemed strange to think that in just a matter of days I could already fantasize about living here. I’m only human. Besides, LA and I haven’t made anything official. I haven’t bought a home there yet. She’s making it really difficult to do so. I can barely stay in my apartment, with a few measly things to call my own. In Seattle, I felt as if I could live a better life.

It was love at first sight and as such, it was over in the blink of an eye. As I folded the shirtsleeves on which my heart was worn, I could see myself loving my life and work in Seattle. The new habits I would form there, the new paths I would walk and the stuff I would get used to. LA still has my home, my heart. I couldn’t just leave her. There’s too much baggage. I missed her. Her smoggy breath, urinous perfume, sultry weather and asphalt forests. I will miss Seattle like one misses a past lover, continuing to fantasize about it while still inside of LA. However, even after I visit other cities in distant lands and relocate there permanently, I will always go to California with an aching in my heart.

Pater Noster

Our Father which art in heaven…

My dad hated when my siblings and I misbehaved in church; the House of God as he would refer to it in order to make our actions carry on a more sinful weight. In that stuffy environment full of boring people trying to stay awake, all I wanted to do was anything to distract myself from the holy minutiae bleating out of the preacher’s mouth onto the flock.

My dad would threaten us, “Just wait ’til we get out of here.” Then, once out, he would ask, “Do you know why I’m hitting you?” I always did, nodding up and down with watery red eyes. I preferred my dad’s style of corporal punishment as my mom’s went overboard to borderline abuse. I didn’t enjoy it, but I appreciated it as this was one of the few times that he showed any real interest or concern for me. I liked that.

Hallowed be thy name…

Aside from the occasional corrective beatings he’d bestow upon me, the most detrimental and damning action his hands ever inflicted on me was when he wrote in a name identical to his in the box “Name of Child” on my birth certificate.

His name thrusted upon me his criminality and the shame that accompanied it. My family automatically fashioned a path for me in their minds, one similar to his, one paved with drugs, lies and perdition. “He’ll probably grow up to be just like him.”

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven…

My dad wasn’t a mainstay at our household. If my childhood were a sitcom, he would’ve been a recurring character. However, when he was home, he felt like he was the star of the show, a king and demanded that my mother, my siblings and I do as we were told. Do whatever made him happy.

Even though he was unemployed and unemployable, he felt that any money that entered the house–whether through his wife’s paycheck or his kids’ allowance or birthday money–was his to claim. He was the husband after all. It was his divine right. He would smack my mom and us around if we went against this holy decree. He slapped my sister square in the face when she told him to “get a damn job.” According to him, his job was to take care of us, but the way we saw it, the only person we needed protection from was him.

Give us this day our daily bread…

The money that he did manage to weasel out of my mom was squandered on things that were not bread. He didn’t fit the role of provider very well. The food that stocked our pantry and refrigerator came from what little money my mom made. We often went hungry for whole days. That never seem to bother my dad. I remember telling him that my siblings and I hadn’t eaten all day and that we were wondering if he could pick up a pizza for us. He asked if my mom had given us any money to pay for it. I said no. He told me not to worry, that he would find a way to buy it. He left the house in a hurry. I couldn’t help but to worry.

One hour turned into two and then three and before I knew it, it got late. My siblings and I fell asleep with empty stomachs that night. Then, around 1:00 a.m., he came in empty-handed and told us that he had forgotten to buy the pizza and that he would buy us one later that day. I don’t know if it was the fasting or the fact that he had made too many false promises before, but I was beginning to see everything with more clarity. I didn’t believe him anymore.

Whenever my siblings and I would ask him for anything, he would scoff and shame us by saying “At your age I was already finding my own food and cooking it.” My mom hated my dad’s methods and when we would tell her about what he said she’d say, “That’s because your dad and his brothers were raised like animals.” He wanted us to fish without having taught us to do so. When he himself wasn’t.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…

Most of his money came either from the sale of controlled substances, primarily Schedules I and II, or from selling our family’s things; like my rare can collection, letting his friends “borrow” my social security card or asking me to pee in a cup for his buddy. He’d entice me to give him these things by saying “Don’t be stupid, don’t you know that I can give you a lot of money?” Whenever I would ask him to pay me the money that he had promised, he would simply laugh and say “I don’t owe you anything. You owe me your life.” I don’t think anything that came out of his mouth irked me more than that simple truth. “How much is that worth?” I asked, “I want to pay you every single penny, so that you can never say that again.” He laughed. “You can’t pay me back for that. I’m your father.” Scratch that. The latter fact was what truly pissed me the fuck off. He enjoyed having that unrequitable debt over me. It was the one thing he couldn’t sell. Or at least hadn’t tried to yet. His last claim to any shred of dignity.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…

One would assume that a person who deals in illegal drugs would have considerable to a fair amount of monies. But not in the case of my dad. He was bad with finances and would often take other forms of payment, such as clothing, CDs, video games and even eye wear. Sometimes right off of the person’s face.

One of his favorite forms of requisition was sending us to school with strange men. His loyal customers. He was mostly carless, so in a sense, he was killing two birds with one stone: making sure his kids went to school and shielding them from seeing him and his buddies get high on his own shit.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

In the end, my dad was the perfect one for me. Because of his bad example, he inadvertently swayed me away from ever wanting to be like him. Had he not been the irresponsible, unreliable and perilous presence in my family, I may have not realized the importance of being a good person.

Through his absence, he taught me the importance of being there for people. And through his lack of affection, that of expressing your love for those you care about.

I thank him for being my father because he taught me what it truly means to be a good parent.

Father and son on bicycle [Photograph]. (1938). Shades of L.A: Jewish Community , Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles.

Come and Get It

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.”

Cupid Painted Blind

The night that I sent her a friend request I had also sent one to four other people. I tend to add people that I have more that ten friends in common with. I bumped it up to ten from five after I was unwittingly attached to a Messenger chat group in which the members messaged each other lewd GIFs of large penises coming on women’s faces.

Most people simply add you if you seem like a nice person. Not this girl. She took a special interest in me. She wanted me to work for her friendship, like a real friend, not a mere Facebook friend.

“Where do I know you from?” she messaged me a few minutes after I clicked the “Add Friend” button next to her profile picture. I didn’t know what to reply. I drew a complete blank. What the fuck was I to tell this girl? Uh, I added you because Facebook’s obscure and cold dystopian computer programming pinned our accounts together. I had to lie in order to add some warmth to this ill-conceived union.

“I think we had a class together,” I replied five minutes later. I thought it would be the end of that or at least buy me an hour or two to come up with some bullshit story about how we knew each other. Just as I was about to close the Messenger app, I saw the greyed out speech bubble with the blinking ellipsis.

“No, I’ve never seen you before.” If that were indeed true, then why did she accept my invite in the first place? She could’ve just ignored the friend request from the strange man. I needed an exit strategy.

“Hmmm…I guess I thought you were someone else.” Alright, if this girl unfriends me, I would understand. She probably thought I was a creep, and her observation wouldn’t have been all that inaccurate. I wanted to diffuse the tension by taking a vow of lying. I wanted to write the whole thing off as a simple honest mistake. A case of mistaken identity.

“Who do I remind you of?” she asked. The beast of deceit wouldn’t die. I found myself in a situation in which I would have to dig my way out of a lie by continuing to lie. I could’ve been more proactive and simply unfriended her myself, but this whole situation was a matter of principle. I wasn’t going to let anybody prove that I was a bad liar.

“You look like a girl I took a class with.”

“What was the class?” Before I could even type a single letter, the stupid ellipsis came back and she laid on me a double lashing. “What did she look like?” and “What was her name?” This girl was playing a fucked up game of “I’ll ask questions because I’m bored and you’ll answer them because you’re an idiot.” I was going to answer these questions and then drive up to a cliff, walk up to the edge of the bluffs and cast my phone far and deep into the sea’s insatiable abyss. Enough was enough.

“Well, she kind of looked like you and her name was Sonia.” Out of all the fake women’s names I could have used, I used the one that had a one letter difference to hers.

“I think you’re lying.” She was after a truth that was nonexistent. A truth that was a lie. We both knew that I was lying, but to different ends. I was lying to not seem like a complete asshole. She thought that I was lying because I was trying not to come off as a dickhead casanova that added her as a friend only to flirt with her because I thought she was hot.

I figured that the truth would only bring more bad than good. So, I kept lying to her. After all, we were on Facebook, an ethereal and ephemeral cybernetic realm where everybody lies about themselves and projects an image that only exists in that realm and in no way reflects what goes on in their daily existence. Some call it lying. I call it having a great fucking profile. It’s a place where you’re allowed to cut people out of your life and out of profile pictures. It’s not your fault that you still look good in that picture the two of you took together at that one party you went to while you were still a couple.

“So, I see that you have a lot of female friends,” she texted. She had deduced that by going through my friend’s list. “You’re a big flirt. Don’t you have a girlfriend?” Her questions transcended mere curiosities and dwelled more in the realm of uncomfortably personal. They required answers that led to more questions. Questions that I didn’t have the answer to because I never bothered to think about them until that very second. Questions that I myself was afraid to find out the answers to. Revelatory in an undesirable kind of way. It was as if I was in a confessional with the internet’s priest being forced to divulge all of my social media sins.

“Yeah, we’ve been together for five years now,” I retorted. I was against the ropes falling victim to a flurry of interrogations. A quarrel of queries. Like her, I had also snooped around in her Facebook pictures and seen that she had a boyfriend herself. “How long have you been with your boyfriend?” She went silent for the rest of the day. At around 3:27 a.m. of the next day, I got a reply.

“How do you know I have a bf?”

“I looked at your profile pictures.”

“LOL, you were looking through my pictures? Why would you do that? It’s weird.” She seemed shocked that the person she had been messaging for weeks had looked at her public profile pictures. As if casual Facebook stocking were a serious crime. I was surprised that she didn’t quite understand how social media worked. I kind of felt bad for her.

“Listen, I’m sorry for looking at your profile,” I replied.

“No. It’s just that I’m a private person.” It sounded like she wanted to be serious. “I met my bf on fb.” Her reply had an unspoken innocence to it. She wasn’t trying to be sneaky by inspecting my profile or overstep her boundaries with her questions. She was just trying to make sure that all of her Facebook friends were people that she could actually be friends with face to face. Real people, not people who just wanted to casually chat, flirt, sell you stuff or have a larger friends list. For some reason this realization was as bizarre to me as when I first opened a message from the ultra-sexualized Messenger group I had to block. Two extremes. Two sides of the same coin.

 

 

 

Scent of a Man

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.