I’m coasting down Eagle Rock Boulevard when I see a kid washing a window in a building where a Filipino man once wrapped his fingers around mine, pushed his hand into the small of my back and said, “Dance.”
We weren’t alone. A woman with wispy red hair that looked like it may have been borrowed from a doll stood in the corner. She, the red head, was a dancing queen. There were glamour shots on the wall to prove it. And the tinny CD player in the corner, the full body mirrors reflecting the fluorescent light, the hardwood floors which once served as a middle school basketball court – she built all of that. A dancing queen’s empire.
I have nothing to do, so I turn left on York and as is my practice, I look for a coffee shop that isn’t so thriving that I’ll have to struggle to find a seat or listen to someone younger or older than me lament to their coffee date about their struggle. Admittedly, these are difficult criteria in Los Angeles, and maybe anywhere I speak the language of the midday café crowd. With my eyes failing me, I pull over to find a place on my phone. I’m scrolling when I hear my name.
“Dude! What’s up?!”
I can’t remember his name, but I know we went to college together, so I return the enthusiasm, “Dude! Long time!”
He’s extremely tan and has apparently been wearing the same hemp bracelet for 10 years. “What are you up to? Where are you working right now?”
“Nowhere at the moment,” I say. “I’m sort of on hiatus, just kind of hanging out.”
“So you don’t have a job.”
He nods as if he’s just learned that a national treasure has died. Or that the Comanche language no longer has any native speakers. “How long have you been out of a J-O-B?”
“Oh, not long. Since March.”
“Jeez. Two months. Hey, this is kind of weird but, can I get you something to eat?”
I laugh it off. “No way, man.”
“Hey, there’s no need to be prideful. I mean, you’re riding a bike.”
It’s true. I am. “It’s a nice day!”
“No, it’s not.”
It’s true. It’s not. “Yeah, well, I wasn’t in a rush.”
“Because you don’t have a job. Let me at least buy you a burrito.”
I want this to stop, but I don’t know how to make it stop.
My Taco is a family place that makes a taco borrego that is something to behold. I won’t tell you where exactly My Taco is because I’m already upset with myself for taking a guy who I didn’t like even when I knew him a decade ago. But we all make mistakes. Our poor, misinformed and now uninsured voted for Trump. We’re all culpable.
We settle in and he asks, “So did you lose your car?”
“No, I just thought I’d get some exercise.”
“Don’t you think your odds of getting hit by like, a bus are higher than dying of obesity?”
He might have a point. “I’m also skating tonight so I’m trying to get the lactic acid out of my legs from my game last night.”
The woman from behind the counter takes our number and leaves us with a half dozen tacos. They’re not pretty, but that’s why I’m able to keep coming back. The masses haven’t moved in because these tacos aren’t photogenic. They’re just tacos. Delicious fucking tacos.
“How many hockey leagues are you in?”
“Three. My nights are pretty wide open.”
“And apparently so are your days.”
“Yeah, but it’s hard to find a good midday skate. Holy shit, how much does that lady look like Kellyanne Conway?”
He turns his attention to a skeletal woman rollerblading in the parking lot. At the minimum, she’s been awake for a week straight. My college pal says, “You’re playing a lot of hockey.” I nod, my mouth full of lamb barbacoa, and he says, “I don’t feel like I should pay for lunch. You’re not even trying to get a job. You’re just biking around pretending to be homeless.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Come on! That beard! Those Vans? There are literal holes in your shoes. Actual holes.”
“Well,” I shrug, “you already paid. Want me to Venmo you?”
“I feel bad. You don’t have a job.”
“I don’t mind paying for my tacos. They’re a $1.50.”
“It’s not about the money.”
“Okay, you lost me.”
He pushes his greasy orange plate to the middle of the table. “Well, can I give you a lift somewhere?”
“I’ve got my bike.”
“Dude! You’re got to stop bringing that up. It’s making me sad. Seriously depressed. Just get like a Ford Fiesta or something. They’re cheap. Get a fuckin’ Kia.”
“I have a car.”
“I keep forgetting that because you’ve got that… meth mobile.”
“You’re just putting lipstick on a pitbull.”
As we clear our plates, I ask, “So, do you work over here?”
“No, the overhead’s too high. I’m going to open up shop in Cambodia. Maybe Laos. Super cheap labor. Great full moon parties. Fuck, I love full moon parties.”
“Open up shop doing what?”
“Whoa. Lot of hostility from a guy who’s basically homeless, begging people to buy him burritos and shit. By the way, this place is bomb. Definitely coming back.”
The front door jingles and we step outside where the Cracked-Out Nancy Kerrigan is still doing pirouettes. He throws a leg over his pearl white Vespa. “Well, I hope you achieve your goal of becoming a professional hockey player or whatever you’re doing with your life.”
“That’s not really… Okay, thank you.”
“Hey, let’s do this again soon. I still have the same number.”
“Perfect. I definitely have all the numbers in my phone that I had in 2008.”
He revs his Honda Airblade, flashes me a toothy smile and pulls onto York Boulevard. But unfortunately for everyone driving east now and for the rest of the day, he’s sideswiped by an orange Metro bus. The bus brakes, but not before it first tramples over his scooter, then his body, and finally his head. Cars begin to honk. A few people get off the bus and go about their day.
I mount my 12 speed, look right, then left, then right again. The traffic has already started to build. I feel fortunate to be headed the other direction and in the bike lane no less. More importantly, it looks like I don’t have to worry about him telling anyone about My Taco. We’re left with so little that’s sacred in this world. But at least we have tacos. Yes, at least for now we have tacos.