Cakewalk – Round 5 : Page 7

November 11th, 2016

My Porsche suddenly seems pathetic and obscene. Families of four subsist on far less than this non-functional, difficult-to-maintain cliche of opulence cost. I resolve on the spot to sell it and donate the money to Crazy Bear’s food bank on Religion Row.

Such a lovely day. My knees so stiff, my legs bulbous. I never actually walk anywhere anymore. The Row’s only about four miles. Cakewalk. An hour’s casual stroll past the gleaming green-topped mountains and the university. Tens of thousands of timeworn, wrinkled refugees from snowlocked states flock here every winter in plaid polyester short slacks to gush at the mild climate and spectacular scenery, while I, situated strategically in the heart of this awesome town, hardly glance at it as I breeze past self-importantly in my imported sportscar.

What the hell have I turned into?

I go back in the house and select some patchwork corduroy baggy pants and a blue-green tie-dye shirt. I take off the Armani and fold it carefully into a plastic trash bag. I grab my old hemp backpack and put the suit inside. I strip off my socks, put them into each of my Italian leather shoes. After a minute of rustling I retrieve my ancient battered Birkenstocks and slip my bare feet in with a sigh. More like it.

I pack the last nug of Afghani into my pipe, pocket it, and resume my journey with lifted spirits. I’m rediscovering all kinds of lost passions today. The tide has finally shifted. The depression never really went away, I realize. Selling the book and the accompanying upgrade in accommodations had relieved the desperation, and my explorations with Llewellyn-my professional ones- had gone a great deal of the way toward easing the pain.

But since finishing Desert Trance-and simultaneously walking in on Matt and Molly enjoying post-coital cigarettes at my expense-I had never felt alive. Exorbitant spending and drug consumption had salved my wounded id, but I hadn’t truly felt pleasure in my soul in two years, until Llewellyn’s unsolicited but extremely welcome seduction. I have been living in a psychic Las Vegas of cheap empty thrills, clutching the existential slot-machine arm with the addiction of the chronic loser, growing ever more pessimistic and indifferent to the jackpot.

It’s as if the balky color reception has suddenly clicked on, filling the world with a whole new dimension. Joy. I’d forgotten the word. What a stupid thing to lose track of. What else matters?

Hug.

I spot a grubby vet-type flying a cardboard sign on the median strip. Will Work For Food. He’s about my size. I flop frantically in my sandals to reach him just ahead of oncoming traffic. He eyes me warily. Competition? Is this my regular corner? But my tie-dye is clean

“Are you serious about working?” I ask him. He nods vigorously.

“I had a job,” he explains, “but I was fired. Antiwar activities. An FBI provocateur infiltrated the peace movement I belonged to and turned my name in to the defense contractor I worked for. My training is pretty specialized-basically, I know how to screw in the bolts on $600 toilet seats. There’s a trick to it, those toilets are designed to continue to function in wartime conditions. Bomb goes off, survivors will be able to take a crap. Absolute top-of-the line military shitters. I had fourteen years in on my pension plan. My kids abandoned me to live with their mother and her boyfriend Sven. God, I hate that guy. My house was foreclosed on, car repossessed.”

“Why don’t you file for unemployment, or get a job at a Circle K or something? It’s not dignified and not much money, but until you get on your feet…”

He shakes his head. “I’m on unemployment, and every penny goes to child support. If I get a crap job, I’ll lose my benefits and actually make less money than I do now, which means I’ll fall behind on my payments and be arrested as a deadbeat dad. Besides, who’ll hire me? It’s been three days since I’ve had a bath. Where would I sleep after work, if I’m not in the tunnels early to claim a spot?”

I ponder for a moment. “Let me borrow your marker.” He yields it, bemused. “And the sign.” He passes it to me. I write my name and an address on Illustration Ave. I remove the suit and shoes from my backpack and fish a fifty-dollar bill from my wallet, stacking them on the sign and sliding them over to him.

“The cash is so you can get a hodie tonight, clean up and get a good night’s sleep. In the morning, put on that suit and go to that address. I know the owner. Ridley Enterprises. Tell the receptionist you are a personal friend of mine and I said you should speak to Crazy Bear about his jobs program. Tell him what you told me. He’ll find something that pays enough for you to meet your obligations and still have enough money to live on.”

He stares at me, open-mouthed with disbelief. Catch? Is this some sort of trap? “Why…” He shrugs. Never look a gift horse. “Thank you…Victor? Bless you.”

I return the shrug. “Thank the Goddess. We’re all Her children. Remember to always repay Her kindness. She lives on love. Be gentle to your offspring. They may return to you.” I sound like a greeting card, but sometimes Hallmark comes from the heart. “And devote more time to your peace group. It’s a worthwhile endeavor. In fact, I think I want to check it out. Where do you meet?”

He tells me. “God-I mean, Goddess-but, dammit man, you are a lifesaver.” He offers his hand. I accept it, pleased. “So mote it be, brother.”

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