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Shop til you drop! (Shouldn’t be long now!)

I have a list. That’s comforting. It’s in my hand. Someone else compiled it. I couldn’t have done it myself. It’s not that I’m not capable—it’s just…

I wouldn’t be here without the list. In this town. In this parking structure. In this car. I drain into the structure, single file from the streets with the rest of the cars. There’s a system. Speed up. Slow down. Brake and snake. I’ve found a cozy spot on the fourth level.

I’m looking for a map. I’ve got the list. It’s in my hands. That much I can count on. The rest, well, it’s out of my hands. I ride escalators. First down from the structure and then back up to the appropriate floor. The people inside this place could all appropriately be labeled “Makes Wide Turns” or “Oversized Load.” This is their right.

In America, many rights are subject to circumstance. He who holds the pepper spray, baton, SIG Sauer let’s you know when and where your rights are applicable. But there are some rights that the citizens of this great nation refuse to give up. Certain issues are worth dying for.

Inside the mall, these rights are easy to identify. A woman hands out sausage and cheese products on toothpicks. I watch from the floor above. There are some skinny people here, but they don’t stop. There are many fat people here, but only a few curious men urge their wives, “One second, babe…”

She’s not interested. She’s in the throes of a Mint Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino (non-fat).

You can get as fat as you want here. You can buy as much as you want. You can stockpile calories and cotton, metallic goods and fur. To your heart’s delight! No one can stop you. This is an unalienable right.

Black Friday passed. I missed it. I’ve never been one for violence or crowds. If I skipped the running of the bulls in Pamplona, why would I go to Nordstrom at sunrise?

Then there was Cyber Monday. I don’t really know what that is. The last time I saw the word cyber it was next to the word sex. That was 1994.

Today, I read that one billion dollars of productivity were lost in 2011 due to employees shopping online at work. I want to know what everyone is buying. Send me an email with a detailed list. I’ll add it to my list. We’ll combine lists. Become blood brothers and sisters via commerce.

I watch the offering of sausage and cheese skewers until I remember that I’m here to buy. I’m not here of my own accord. You see, there are certain asterisks attached to relationships, friendships. Even of the familial variety. You and I are obligated to not rock the boat. As long as we buy X number of gifts a year for X number of people they will continue to love us. The love is not inalienable. You have to pay for it. If you don’t they have the right to stop loving you. Like an insurance policy. You get what you pay for, you goddamn communist.

Now it’s my turn. Despite the enormous Christmas tree, the air is thin in here. I inhale deeply but it’s not gratifying. Maybe it’s because I’m on the third floor. I pass shoe stores, Sbarro Pizza and about nine windows that have khaki trench coats on female mannequins. I finally turn into a store that’s on my list

Inside, there are glass cases. Inside the glass cases are earrings, brooches, necklaces, watches. Things, that’s what I would call them. Accessories, that’s what the store calls them. But once they’ve been wrapped everyone calls them presents.

I walk to the first counter. Her lips are pursed.

“Can I help you?”

I hand over my list.

“Okay…”

She eyes it. The list has the names and images of each of the items I am here to gather. She reaches under the collar of her blouse and scratches her clavicle. Or her bra strap. I look away. I wonder how much longer I’ll have to be here.

I start to follow her. She asks me about colors and sizes. I defer to the list. If it’s not there then it’s beyond me. I can only do so much. A man can only do so much.

She picks things up and shows them to me. I’m thinking about something a friend of mine told me. She said, “The Mexican hippie is dead.” She was talking about an era, which I never knew existed. Yet, I mourn the loss.

Pretty soon I’m pointing to my phone. I’m pointing to the time.

“What? Do you have to go or something?”

Or something. Again, I point again to my phone. Today I’m not talking. There’s not enough oxygen. We can’t afford it. This year record shattering amounts of C02 were dispersed into the atmosphere. I’ve used enough oxygen today. Oxygen is not an inalienable right. There will always be plenty of Panda Express. And there’s always more shit to buy. No one will stop you from spending. They’d have to pry that AMEX Black Card from your rigor mortis stricken fingers. Am I right? Are you with me? !? Death before…

She takes my card. I pay it forward. That’s how I like to think of it, but I guess that’s not quite right. I guess you could say, I’ve formally agreed to pay it at a later date. The payment can wait, but people are dependent on what’s inside these bags. This is what makes them happy. No one is excluded. Everyone shops. Here I am shopping. I am shopping, but now I have to leave.

I sign my name. I crumble up my copy and leave it in what used to be an ashtray. The times they are a’changing… I validate my parking. I walk through crowds of lower backpain, waxed eyebrows, $20,000 deductibles, manicured fingers, rising insurance premiums, exploding waistlines, low credit scores, and unseasonable tans. They’re all smiling. This is fun. Spending money, getting fat, collecting things—it feels good.

Yes, we feel better already.

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Fast Times In Thai Town

No matter what I say. No matter how convinced and indoctrinated I seem. Do not believe me. Do not press on. You will be disappointed. Because after all, Thai Angel is not all it’s cracked up to be…

What is it lately? Why do all these Asians operating shady afterhours spots think I’m a cop? When did I all of a sudden start to look like a cop? What does a cop even look like in LA? I’ll tell you—Filipino. And a chick. That’s what a cop looks like in LA. Want to know what I look like? I know a guy named Domingo, he told me I look like the Brawny Man. Does the Brawny Man look like a cop? I don’t think so.

But the fact remains; I can’t get a drink after two am to save my life. Maybe it’s for the best. I disagree.

And it’s not restricted to Los Angeles. For example, in September I found myself in Boston. Yes, you read that correctly. Found myself. Not in the Existential sense—no, I literally woke up on a plane that had just landed in Boston. It was 7:30 a.m. and a Friday.

So there I was in Boston. A day passed. I saw some things. I saw the American Revolution. I saw Sam Adams. I ate a lobster roll. Then, all of a sudden it was two a.m. Like any god-fearing, unslakeable fool, I was looking for some cold tea. That’s what they call it out there in New England. A drink after two, is cold tea. Fine by me. I’m not picky. There was a group of us. There we were, in the North End, or the South End, or maybe it was Southie, or possibly Northie… actually probably not Northie. Northie, after all, is Maine. Wherever we were, we were looking for Asians because Asians serve the good stuff. They serve that cold tea.

Try as we might. Try as we did. Try as we were told we should. We got shut down. Everyone thought I was a cop. The 5-O. Johnny Law. The Fuzz. I was accused of all sorts of terrible things. Entrapment. Bribery. Trespassing. Public Indecency. Tax-Evasion. The list goes and goes. How they knew all this? I do not know. But that’s Boston for you.

Fast forward to last night. The clock strikes two somewhere near Bunker Hill. I’m speaking Spanish to a girl who’s as tall as Lamar Odom. Literally, the tallest chilango that ever lived. Tecate all around. Tecate didn’t look good on her. No sir. Know who Tecate looks good on? Super models. Why? It’s an awful beer and it takes a super model to make it look appetizing. But like I said, I’m not picky…

I make a proposal. Yes, I do. I want to say, I know better. It’s possible I might, but thus far I’ve never proved it. I propose we go to Thai Angel. Charming little place in Thai Town. Shit attitudes, angry staff, awful glass noodle salad, over-priced booze in a Styrofoam cup. It’s just up the street. I promise, it’ll be fantastic.

We get to Thai Angel. I saunter over to the bar and the conversation went like this:

-Booze, por favor.

-I don’t speak Spanish. This a Thai Restaurant.

-Right.

-You want see menu?

-Let’s cut the crap, you don’t have a kitchen. You’ve got a microwave. I’d have to be twice as drunk as I am now to eat anything from here. I would know. I’ve done it before.

Then she stares me down. We’ve met before. Usually, she asks my name, tells me I’m cute then charges me for one or two more drinks than I’ve ordered. We have a rapport. We have history.

-Two whiskeys, two vodkas. Ice. Comprende?

-No.

-Yes.

She goes on to accuse me of being a cop. She tugs my beard just to make sure it isn’t a costume. She says she recognizes me, but not in a good way.

Finally, we establish I’m not a cop. My cohort wants to know what the fuck is going on. After all, I promised a good time. Hookers, cocaine, midget ballerinas, HBO, the works. So far, I’ve come up with zilch. She looks at my ID. She says, now I know where you live, in case you’re lying.

I say, OK. But truthfully, I’m a little weirded out. The address on my ID is in fact a P.O. Box 365 miles from Thai Town.

She tells me, there’s a new place. Tonight’s the first night. We’ll be the first guests.

-Eighty dollar.

-No.

-No?

-How about forty?

We strike up a deal. All of a sudden there’s a train of SUVs leaving Thai Angel, following a woman who thinks I’m a cop to an undisclosed location.

We get there and there’s an old man at the door. I know this old man. We go way back. I shake his hands. Great to see you, I say.

-Eighty dollar.

-Talk to Esmeralda. We’re paying forty.

We walk in. We shouldn’t have walked in. I wouldn’t walk in again without a Ruger. Queasy fluorescent lights. An asbestos ceiling. The owner’s next of kin. One table. They say a DJ is coming later. Great. They plop down four Miller Lites. The only thing I hate more than Miller Lite is Miller High Life.

We sit for three minutes. We drink our beers. We pay. We leave. Some party, right?

The next time the clock strikes two and you and me are side by side, remember what I’ve just told you. I might promise that we’ll be sipping martinis with Melanie Laurent in a sprawling estate on Point Dume, but in all actuality, we will end up in Thai Town. We will drink warm beer. We will be scorned. I will apologize for the French colonization of Vietnam. No one will understand.

And then, my friend, we will leave. Our livers better for the failure. Our minds worse for the effort. Thai immigrants wealthier for our indulgence.

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