The decline of another human being is a peculiar thing to watch. This end of paradise is constantly in a downward spiral with defiled youth, wilted splendor and human shrapnel scattered about. Shrapnel of an era that believed so deeply in something that when it disappeared everyone left behind had nothing to do, but keep on living as if it hadn’t.
The most starcrossed of lovers I’ve ever come across is a dipsomaniacal couple in their forties. When you see what they’ve become, it’s nearly impossible to imagine them as the human beings that must have once been. A year ago, she stumbled around, clinging to men up and down the boulevard, peddling for her next bottle of vodka. This morning she was in a wheelchair, pushing herself backwards with the one leg she didn’t lose to diabetes.
Usually, I don’t notice this couple unless they’re screaming at each other, but lately she’s almost always screaming at him, so I guess I notice them quite often. He’s a slight man, no more than 5’8 and one hundred and forty pounds or so. He wears a baseball hat and four or five days of scruff on his weather beaten skin. There are plenty of men his age that look worse, but still, there’s not much life in him. He drinks and pushes her up and down the street. He spends a lot of time sitting and asking if “You got any change? Help the homeless get a meal?” to which everyone that lives in this neighborhood quips back, “There’s a shelter two blocks away, and they serve meals three times daily.” Those who don’t live in the neighborhood: tourists looking for a misguided adventure, westsiders slumming it for a night, club rats and then the human waste that floats up from South L.A. to make a buck or find one, those people say “Uh, sorry man. Not tonight.”
Not tonight? If he wonders at all, surely he must wonder when a better time would be. Tomorrow? Same place, same time? He’s got nothing, but time and if you can’t find a dollar in your pocket, he’s happy to wait it out. He sleeps nearby, on the side of the 101 and Cahuenga overpass with all the trash, ivy and his wheel-chair bond lover. It’s just up the hill and it’s really no trouble at all to come back. Before he can say that, they’re gone. Twelve dollar well drinks, looking to see if some drunk girl is going to make eye contact with him long enough so that he can ask to buy her a drink. A drink she might not want and definitely doesn’t need, but one he would be happy to get for her.
In a way it’s a physical regression, or step away from previous alpha male days. The ability to flaunt one’s genetically endowed ability to survive has been replaced by another endowment. Inheritance. Today’s man, the one that doesn’t have a dollar for an alcoholic with a warped mind and rapidly approaching end, has to gloat like a peacock in the bar. It’s the clothes, the watch, the car, the dinner reservation, the drink of choice, the zip code and where he spends Monday through Friday lying about his weekend conquests.
This morning, I saw the couple from across the street. He’s an under-appreciated, but traditional alpha male of sorts. He helps her survive, nursing her with Moscoff Vodka, pushing her to and from their bed of third-class mail and freeway compost. She screamed something from her wheelchair throne and spit on the man, who sat beneath her on the sidewalk.
“Fuck you, money bags!” He yelled and wiped the spit from his face. “Pumpkin head!”
Using her one good leg she scooted away in retreat. He wiped his face over and over again. A cholo, no older then fourteen, came out of the liquor store they spend daylight hours, strategically camped in front of. He didn’t even try to hide his disgust. He looked at her, with her bloated and brown face, her one good leg, and bad bowl hair cut. She pulled on her hair.
She tried to get a sentence out, but the alcohol weighed her tongue down, and nothing came out, but mumbled syllables and a groan. The cholo skipped by, with a bag in his hand, swishers and Cheetos. Life’s good when your fourteen and everything is new.
At the light, I crossed the street towards them on my way home. She tried to spit again at the man who was still wiping his face from the first offense. She seemed to lack the saliva. Her mouth, her body, dehydrated by too many years of cheap vodka and nights sleeping under and sometimes on top of, the stars of Hollywood.
They know me. I nod and they grow self-conscious. I’ve watched them torpedo to the nadir of the their existence these last three years. Unlike the ninth grade cholo, I’m old enough to know that these drunks on the corner used to be people. They don’t see themselves the way that kid does. They’ve tried not to see themselves for a long time, who knows when the last time the saw anything at all. Although they act like animals and live worse, it’s probably for the best to keep giving them a buck and walking home. Getting clean, seeing themselves the way that cholito does, might be worse then a slow death on pilfered booze and overpass nights among Hollywood’s stars.
–The Neapolitan Mastiff