Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Circle of Life -- Short Story

The Circle of Life

One day when I was driving on Los Angeles Avenue in Los Angeles the city, I saw 3 cop cars worth of cops tiredly swooping homeless peoples’ possessions into standard issue blue tarps they were trying to fold into portable bundles for the harassed indigents to take with them to some other street or park. One cop was shrugging off a homeless man like he wasn’t there, as he collapsed the man’s tent, and another cop ignored a woman repeating, “That’s my stuff.  That’s my stuff.”  There was a pick up truck full of grocery carts being reclaimed from the homeless camp, presumably to be taken back to the stores they came from.  One woman began to charge at a cop but once she got inches away, she realized there was nothing she could do, physically; she just hollered up close in the police man’s face.  She had the kind of Midland American accent that I usually hate to hear, but in this situation, the aggressively nasal vowels added to the sense of her being the mouthpiece for the impoverished people of this country; she had the righteous bearing of a Dust-Bowl farmer fighting back in vain. 

“Where are we supposed to live, huh?  No one wants us in their parks or on the sidewalk -- are we just supposed to disappear into thin air?   You’ll get your own goddamn karma back in your face for this, you wait and see.  What you’re doing to us is wrong.” 

I was at a long stoplight so I watched this scene for what felt like an hour but was probably only a few minutes.

I wanted to pick a side, but it was so all-around ugly, it put me in one of my blue moods.  I don’t know if you ever saw the animated movie “Lion King,” but it was a really popular movie when I was a kid, and I went to see it in the theatre with a group of friends and my mom.  The determinist moral of the movie is that life is a circle that can never be unbroken, even if you want to:  a person is born, has kids, dies, repeat ad infinitum.  Sitting there next to my mom with her soulful, doleful eyes already growing wrinkles around them, I felt sorry for her and for myself too (which was sort of a gift in the long run, as it kicked off a frank closeness between the two of us that a lot of my friends are jealous of).  If this is just all a circle, what did that make me and my mother, then, but a couple of sad-sacks dutifully carrying out a boring destiny?  This is still the main thought that plagues me when I get sad.  It’s that whole type of question Philosophy Majors’ parents’ waste their money on in college:  What is the Meaning of Life?

That is what I was thinking about when I was watching the LAPD force the relocation of the group of itinerants.  I was thinking about how, even though it must be so horrible to be homeless, I’d had so many irritating experiences with panhandlers, and honestly felt relieved when I walked down a street in downtown without encountering a homeless person. 

On the other side, there were the weary faces of the cops who seemed not to like this part of their job, like it was an unpleasant thing they’d rather not have to do.  But of course I couldn’t really drum up any empathy for them either.  Trying to put myself in one of the cops’ shoes for a minute, all I could think of is all the stories of cops killing unarmed black people all year.

Is this the circle of life?  Everyone just lives and then dies and I can’t even drum up much interest in such a sad tableaux, the desperate hunger and untended wounds of homeless people?  The often unwanted job of carrying out society’s ideas of right or wrong?  I was bored and blue for at least a month after that morning, and felt purposeless for a couple years afterward.

Eventually, I snapped out of worrying about the pointlessness of it all.  It happened when I went to my girlfriend Sam’s house for the first time, our first Thanksgiving together, and encountered one of those implausible coincidences; her brother was one of the cops I’d watched evict the homeless people from their tents and boxes not too long ago. 

That Thanksgiving night is one I don’t describe in detail.  It was Sam, her parents and her brother Joseph.  We just all drank too much, that was the mistake, and after a while, my lips numb and my equilibrium completely gone, I looked around at all of us at the table, my intelligent and beautiful girlfriend, her well-read mother, her honorable dad and the pleasantly quiet and unperturbed Joseph, who kept belching and then laughing at himself and saying “I’m sorry, mom!” 

Drunk, Sam’s mom didn’t bother to divide her love evenly between the two siblings, just letting Sam’s conversation starters clunk down awkwardly, while buoying each of her son’s short sentences with a charmed tinkle of laughter.  

I saw Sam and her dad flirt with each other a little, and Sam and I had a quick fuck in the bathroom, even though we knew everyone was probably hearing us and feeling angry or grossed out.  Even with Sam’s mom refusing to dote on her, it probably still made her feel wistful, or protective, to hear her having sex with me.  “We’re all just animals,” I remember saying out loud to my reflection in the bathroom mirror, when Sam’d just left and I was splashing cold water on my face.  Here we all were again, all us people stuck in this circle, the idea of wrong and right not mattering, when nothing really matters anyway.  Sam’s brother would have a kid and his own dad would die.  Then eventually he would die.  Then someday his son would die.  Then someday his son’s son would die. 

I left the bathroom and, while Sam was in the living room loudly teasing her mom for how underdone the turkey had been, I followed Sam’s brother to the rec room, where he was going to get the dart board, and I surprised him by pushing a kiss hard onto his lips with my own lips.  The instant look on his face was of guilt.  

“Oh my god,” I blurted out, immediately sorry and embarrassed, “you must think I’m such a bad person.” 

But he just said, and meant it, “No, it’s okay, it’s okay.  Don’t worry about it. I know you didn’t really mean it.” 

Now I just try to forgive everyone everything, all the time.  If life is meaningless, I forgive fate for its own cruelty.  I forgive everything for being itself, because we none of us can help it.