Vespa was a natural born thief. She pulled off her first successful heist in 1994 as a 7 year old in the great raid of Mother's jewelry box, a masterful success if she did say so herself. She felt no remorse, held no guilt for her wandering morality. It was the thrill of swiping the banana from the fruit car that built her high as a Tibetan peak. When other preteens dreamed of dancing with a movie star or being a plastic pop darling, Vespa had her eyes on the big time con life.
Some kids know from the beginning their destiny will be laced with greatness - find the cure for cancer or win a Nobel Prize or something like that. Vespa was no different, though her definition of greatness likely clashes with those of our most moral and guiding fathers. Our priests who squeak in the confessionals. Our politicians wedged deep in pants pockets.
Vespa had an affair with crime, or rather, she has this affair. It never leaves in the morning. To elevate it to "relationship" would imply love. I'm not sure love is anywhere there. It's just sex. Just stimulation. Vespa's justice is dying to get into crime's pants and it is always wary to try and screw her. But in the morning they are together, intact, and Vespa ponders how to steal a John Deere hat atop a plaster mannequin, one of the Northridge mall's most eligible bachelors. She would steal a raccoon stuffed, in a shelter, or roadkill outside the Szechwan Palace.
It should come as no surprise that Vespa is unfaithful.
For about seventeen years, Tito had a seat at the end of the bar close to the jukebox. He arrived each day, coming from God knows where, before it got dark. The vampires arrived after dark. He wore a Dick Dastardly handlebar mustache, painting him as the tie-your-niece-to-the-train-tracks character of the bar, but perhaps more in a tongue in cheek, vaudeville, kiss from the past kind of way. The image was not ironic. Just of itself, it was it.
The opening riot takes stage as the sun disappears, the masks coming out one by one, a dystopian orchestra of gnarls and skids storming in from the wet confusion of our imperfect atmosphere. The office lunatics have changed their ties out for disguises, a masquerade of styles and fashions flooding in, the palm reader and the astrologer share a moment over Jack Daniels. Tito observes, a spy to their conversation, a stranger to their banal forms of contemplation, merit, and value, philosophical in the least, dependent on an opinion on a controversial Chinese diet. He taps his foot to Tom Petty, a staple of his jukebox repertoire. An L.A. legend. Nickels clang like cymbals in his shirt pocket, meeting to the beat of life's performance.
Tito drowns a Pabst Blue Ribbon, a favorite of Frank Booth and a squadron of Echo Park hipsters. Fife the barkeep follows the script and grants him another as a stray torpedo reaches the jukebox outside Tito's vision. The coin intake swallows Thomas Jeffersons like bullets retreating back into the gun barrel. A hack melody rings true in ten minutes time and the vampires dance and Tito drinks and the curtain tumbles down.
Tito is dying. He's been dying every single day of his life.
Randy Newman sings a song about how two different kinds of people can live on the same street in L.A. yet be polar opposites in every imaginable way. Wealthy Malibu movie stars share Sunset Blvd. with bums in the gutters outside Echo Park. This is, of course, before it becomes Cesar E. Chavez Blvd. and shuts its eyes and bites its lips and wanders into East L.A. Fancy Victorian mansions in the west give way to cardboard villas in the east. Dumb dolls in fabulous penthouses to drunken neighbors kicking a Vietnamese liquor store owner in the back of his skull. I think they sing this song after each victory at Dodgers games.
She was a librarian, this Claudia Fuerte. She could tame the most vicious delinquent, silence the thoughtless joker, spring the chronic underachiever toward a higher spectrum of being. She once got a White Fence gang member to read "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie." He liked it.
That windy Thursday evening there were no heroes on the 3600 block of E. Olympic Blvd who could save her, lying like a bum in a gutter, thrice shot, twice rolled, her golden hair stained with a mixture of fresh asphalt residue and fresher blood. The crimson flows out and never stops, four men's worth of blood from this tiny little woman. Her killer never knew her. She never knew him. He had the choice between the scythe and the machete. A garden or a gun.
She was walking home from the market, fresh tortillas and fresher salsa mixing with her blood. A mixture of elements, a marriage of being. She remained, Claudia Fuerte did, in that gutter for an hour, as a 7 year old boy 17.5 miles west blew out his candles before saying goodnight.
The small Mexican woman had come to pick a ticket, passage on a train to anywhere, wrapped in her shawl so that her shining green eyes pierced through like the light of a supernova. So bright. So lifeless. There was no future for these twin supernovas. Dust invaded and she shut her eyes with a cringe.
She remembered the events of the past week, She had narrowly avoided the horrific fates of her sisters. Esmeralda was kicked by a donkey and lay in bed, her mind incapable of clarity, her thoughts awash with the sterility of light gray and off-whites. Her sister Gloria was the victim of assault, the assailant - a complete mental collapse - robbing her blind of any sense of reason or feeling. The sight of her dearest elder sister as a vegetable with nary a cultivator. It was too much. It had been too much for far longer before then. Clara, the youngest, managed to choke on a grape, perhaps focusing all her attention on her unfortunate sisters and none whatsoever on her own unsteady matriculation. Her funeral was Friday.
Now it was Monday, and a slender sugarcane body leaned on a column for support. With Clara gone, Gloria without her mind, and Esmeralda simply a shell of her former self, the small woman was completely overwhelmed. She had nothing left at home. She had no home. The night before she had dreamed of a white hunger, lean but rigid, meeting her on a train and promising her a red bicycle on a southern California ranch with oranges and grapefruit and six chickens. She awoke in a sweat, her hair still a mess, her dress stained with the pea soup from the previous night's dinner, a meal she couldn't force into Gloria's mouth. The ghost of Clara was in the house, she knew, perhaps hiding behind a column of concrete. She packed her bags and began walking. Clara would want her to escape.
Poor Marielle needed liberation. The harbinger of freedom arrived at 2:43 p.m. that day in the form of an orange steam locomotive. It faced west.
My balcony looks out upon the plaza. The flash of sunbeams beckons me and I step out. Just for a moment, I tell myself. Just for a moment.
Twilight is nigh and soon the boys playing ball on the grass below will have to retreat home, defeated by nature's dark streak, a cruelty atoned only by the smooth softness of morning - a softness too many of us miss out on, I think.
A behemoth of a youth, a simply massive kid who would give Babe Ruth a run for his money in a hot dog eating contest, lets out a mighty swing and sends a small comet toward my building. I can count the rotations of the little white sphere as it grows toward me, growing and growing like a beanstalk aiming for the clouds, pushed by magical forces underneath. A small boy takes chase.
The ball begins to lose steam, slowing and slowing in its advance as its apex comes nigh above my eye-line. It falls. And falls. And falls still. I hear the clicking of the boy's cleats below followed by a massive thud - his shoulder stopped in its motion by the building's brick façade. I hear as he cripples down into a pile, whimpering, but trying to keep from tearing up. I cannot see his face but I can hear his crumble. He is fighting the urge to run the water works. The infielders call him a faker. They tell him to get up and throw in the ball. The massive kid is also massively slow and only now rounds second base. The young outfielder struggles, my ears sensing the red-mud image burnt into his retinas - the last thing to pop into his peripheral vision before the collision.
I choose not to see how the play ends. I turn and re-enter my apartment. I reach for a bottle of alcoholic cider for an alcoholic and collapse on my futon, legs upon my coffee table. I don't drink coffee. The remote control calls my name and I turn on the Food Network. Then the Travel Channel Then ESPN. A magazine begs me to come home to Scotland. I've never been to Scotland. I'm too young to go to Scotland. Scotland is my drink coaster.
I stand gingerly, the creaks in this old body popping in the sterile air. I walk to the kitchen to prepare a TV Dinner.