Most people who jog this early in the morning do so as part of a rigorous health regimen or a demeaning desire for self-humiliation, but not me! No, my daily jog is always the result of procrastination and poor planning, often aided by random variables like slapping the snooze alarm a-dozen-too-many times or not being able to find matching socks.
Today, a throbbing hangover serves to amplify the fact that I have no business running down Las Palmas Avenue at six o’clock in the morning in poorly-laced combat boots. Me, I’m just trying to catch the bus to my soul-sapping temp job in Pasadena. If successful, it’ll only take me an hour to get there from Hollywood. If unsuccessful, I can count on a painfully prolonged stay at the bus stop where I’ll be harassed for spare dollars by a parade of colorfully eloquent transients and anticipate dirty looks from the department manager when I eventually stumble into work late. Again.
Upon reflection, I can’t see how my morning jog is anything but the result of a demeaning desire for self-humiliation. It’s lucky that I’m in no mood for reflection. Fly, little worker bee! The hive awaits! Because I’m a sucker.
Ah, good. I see the Death Star-sized garbage truck from a block away, and it’s directly in my path. Circumnavigation is impossible. If I were a teen-aged heartthrob in a high-speed, edge-of-the-seat action thriller, I’d doubtless have the ability to soar thirty feet over my obstacle via skateboard or dirt bike or jet pack or something. But I’m not, and I don’t, so I wait. I wait. I catch my breath and wait, just a few short steps from my destination, cursing the Department of Public Sanitation and the entire city of Los Angeles in a voice only audible if there were an absence of the truck’s brain-piercing beeps (there isn’t).
Yeah, it needs to beep. People are going to mistake the gargantuan, god-damned thing for a moving building?
Finally, the shuddering rubbishnaught backs up and leaves just enough room for me to see bus #180, chariot of my salvation, as a barely-visible blur, leaving nothing but a twirling wake of newspapers and tiny candy wrapper tornadoes. My watch — always set, failingly, to trick me into thinking it’s later than it really is in hopes of spurring a more punctual mind-set — indicates that the #180 is ahead of schedule!
The word “bastard!” rolls effortlessly off my tongue, punctuated by the fist I raise in anger at the speck on the horizon that should have been my ride to work this morning.
“Do you have a dollar or two, brother? I need to get something to eat!” comes a voice from the other side of the bench where I wait.
A toothless white guy swaddled in filthy flannels with a head topped by a mop of oily tresses and a greasy, Schlitz trucker’s cap meets my gaze. “Disheveled” would be him on a dressier day. It’s not a dressier day. I choke back the advice boiling in my throat that he, too, could earn a steady paycheck if he’d only submit to the rigmarole of a dehumanizing day job. Like I am. Because I’m a sucker.
“No, man, I’m sorry. I’m broke, too. Sorry,” is what I say sheepishly, instead.
“Awww,” he says with genuine sympathy. “Here. Have a dollar, then.”
He produces a wadded-up, grime-besmirched portrait of George Washington that may very well be a dollar bill. Ah! I see the numerals and mysterious, one-eyed pyramid as he smooths it out with his dirt-caked talons. I smile politely and decline, telling him to please keep the dollar.
“Ah-ha!” He says as if he’s a detective and I’ve been instrumental in helping him crack a vexing caper. “If you don’t need my dollar, then that must mean you already have a dollar! So why don’t you just give me a dollar?”
It’s way too early in the morning for me to even contemplate such…what? Logic? Anti-logic? Genius? I suspect this isn’t the first time he’s used this line, and I suspect he usually catches his prey as off-guard as he’s now caught me. Still, he’s not getting any of my money! I laugh and tell him so. He grumbles and moves off in search of less stingy quarry; I eventually catch a bus and make it to work forty-five minutes late.
Truth be told, I don’t have a dollar. But if I did, I’d probably have given it to this guy. Why? Because I’m a sucker. A broke-ass sucker. A sucker who gets up at five in the morning to work at a job he hates to wind up with less money in his pocket than the homeless shyster who hustles tourists and commuters for cash and conversation every day. If it weren’t for the fact that I like to take showers on a regular basis, I could be as free.
I may be a sucker, but at least I’m a hygienic sucker. Next time, I’ll take that dollar.
Written circa 2002. Life was less pleasant then.