Sunday, August 26, 2012

Skid Row, Los Angeles, California, United States, Earth

The dead calm is climbing inside me and making my heart race and my skin sweat. I feel apprehensiveness all over. This is terribly disconcerting. I swallow once and look around, keeping as alert and aware as humanly possible. This is not the place to become complacent. The crimes that happen here never reach the courtrooms of justice. It’s pretty important to make it out of here without incident. If I were victimized I would never be vindicated. That’s something that I might not be able to live with.

Seriously, what the hell is going on? What could possibly be silencing the noise? Where have all the sounds of Skid Row gone? Where are all the horrifying screams of impending rapes and homicides typically heard echoing out of abandoned alleyways and decrepit building balconies? Where is the screeching of tires from a drug deal gone awry? And where are the sounds of breaking liquor bottles thrown aside by drunken and disillusioned souls? This lack of noise tonight is beyond upsetting; it makes no rational sense.

The silence all around me is almost horrifyingly loud. It’s almost reminiscent of that terrifying feeling that creeps into the brain when standing in a room filled with people and every single person is engaged in a different conversation and there is nothing to do but listen to the cacophony of sound and feel the insidious depression creep into the body and mind. I cannot identify any of the sounds enough to understand what is going on; everything is indecipherable. I’m about to scream. Really, if I don’t hear the customary sounds of this place soon, I am going to scream. If my nerves are not soothed by the familiar noises of Skid Row, I might have to yell at the top of my lungs in order to dispel this growing anxiety and scare off would-be attackers.


** 

I wish I could hear the city noise but it’s too far off for my straining ears to register. Instead, I pull the bottle of prescription meds I stole from the doctor from my pocket and surreptitiously slip one of the pills into my mouth. I try to be as stealthy as possible because I know that if there are eyes upon me now, and I am pretty certain that there are, that they would steal these pills without a second’s thought. This is a jungle and I am potential prey. They are hunting me like predators, trying to decide whether it is worth the effort for them to accost me. I want them to believe that I have nothing to offer.

Carefully, I replace the bottle in my pocket, making damn sure that I don’t jiggle the pills around at all. I don’t want anyone to hear them rattling and get wise to what I’m holding. Residents of Skid Row jerk awake at the sound of rattling pill bottles. That’s a fact. If someone around here figured out that I am holding, it would complicate my life in a way that I may not be able to handle. In all honesty, the only thing I want right now is to get home in one piece, with my pills, fall into bed, and sleep for a whole night and day. That sounds absolutely divine.

So with the rest of the pills tucked safely away, I hold the single capsule underneath my tongue for as long as I can stand. I like forcing drugs to dissolve into that big purple vein strategically placed underneath my tongue. I have found in the past that the effects of opioids are much quicker when I employ this particular method. And this way I don’t have to wait unceasingly long for the pill to dissolve in my stomach through ingestion and then digestion. Waiting has always been a drag for me, mostly because I am terribly impatient and unaccustomed to delaying my gratification. The tongue method has always proven, in the past, to be a shortcut to pleasure. I love my shortcuts to pleasure.

I begin to walk a little faster now that I can feel the opiate working through my system. It has started to massage my cerebellum and it’s working its way down my spine, not missing a single joint in the process. These drugs sure are strong and I give a silent thanks to the doctor at UCLA who allowed me to steal them from him. Of course it is also working to dull my natural reflexes and that realization alones makes me quicken my step. I don’t want to be feeling this good only to come down and feel terrible because I was pilfered from. I don’t want this to be the last time that I feel the fingers of this drug massaging my entire body in beautiful unison. I must make it home; I must have an encore with these drugs.

I look up and begin pinpointing certain structures in the distance to aspire to. This is the way I mentally conquer things. It would be nice if I could make it back to downtown unscathed. I would really like the opportunity to keep my property. And if I am threatened, if I am accosted and my accoster has ill intent toward me, I won’t give up anything without a fight. In fact, let it be known in this forum that I have used violence in defense of my property in the past. I am disinclined to agree that property alone does not warrant deadly force because some property is so valuable that the protection of life cannot even justify the snuffing out of said property.

Luckily no one has accosted me yet; they have let me be. Maybe they don’t believe that I am carrying anything of worth. Maybe I appear to them as nothing more than an unwelcome intruder, an audacious interloper walking hurriedly through their makeshift sanctuary. They may want me gone just as much as I want myself gone. Let’s hope that holds true for the rest of this journey.

To be honest, I’m not super stoked about all of these people camped alongside the street in their cardboard homes. Even though they are being uncharacteristically quiet for the moment, I still know that they are in there, peeking out at me and silently plotting things. At any time they could gang up on me and turn my pockets inside out. But I shouldn’t be thinking about that now. It’s making me feel even more paranoid and insecure. I let out a low grown of disgust as I unintentionally meet the gaze of one of the residents after he emerges from his tent to get some fresh air or to urinate or something. I avert my eyes almost immediately because I know most people around here think that eye contact is like some kind of challenge. I’m not challenging anybody.

I keep walking, hoping that guy won’t try to turn our accidental eye contact into something more. Fortunately he doesn’t. He just goes about his business and I go about mine. I don’t want any trouble. A car comes up behind me and honks in an attempt to get me out of the street. I comply begrudgingly by moving to the left and allowing him to pass. Now that I’m getting closer to downtown, it looks like I’ll have to get back on the sidewalk. There are too many cars in the street to make walking in the middle of the road feasible. But I’m glad to be nearing the city; it’s sort of comforting because I feel like there is less of a chance that I will get robbed. Still, I am within the boundaries of Skid Row so anything is possible.

It annoys me, sort of, when I am forced to step over people who are sleeping on top of the heat grates on the sidewalk, blanketing themselves with the discarded trash and newspapers of two weeks ago. This seems like the worst possible reality to have. I’m not even sure that I can really understand their chronic struggle to sustain their pathetic lives. I think if I were one of them, and I was in a position like this where the only place I could afford to live was here on the streets, I would throw the metaphorical towel in. I would end it while I still had a bit of dignity left, before I became just another virulent strain of a wholly despicable parasite. But for whatever reason, these people seem to have found some solace in the grimy streets of this town. It’s kind of inexplicable.

Actually if I were truly in their position, I would attempt to effectuate adverse possession over one of the semi-abandoned and decrepit buildings of this area. The owners aren’t really paying attention and even though I realize that it would take ten years to come to fruition, the possible payoff would be well worth that hassle. Besides, engaging in a plan of sorts would be reason enough to persist, not to mention the fact that having a roof over my head would at least save me from suffering under the summer sun, the freezing winter rain and the indecisiveness of spring and autumn.

Suddenly I feel the urge to run, to get out of this place as soon as humanly possible. It’s that feeling of jitteriness in the bones, like something might happen and running is the only way to save myself. I think it’s the fight or flight response but I’m not sure exactly what my body is responding to. All I know is that I want to escape; I want to get away from this place right now. But running would be way too much work so instead I reach into my pocket and grab another pill to stifle my wayward imagination and satiate all further impulses to flee. I set the pill under my tongue, just like before, and press down hard, hoping it will dissolve with haste and make me feel better about my prospects here. I think it’s working already. I breathe a sigh of relief and continue on my way.


** 

Finally I see South Main Street and notice the buildings are getting taller and newer and cleaner, a good sign. The colorful and dazzling lights of the downtown skyscrapers are teasing my eyes with their beautiful and alluring calm; they are beckoning me and I am responding as hurriedly as possible. I can’t wait to be home. The downtown arena is drawing me closer, like a compelling polar energy that I don’t know how to ignore. I don’t want to ignore. I want to extricate myself from the bowels of Skid Row and emerge into the comfort and safety of downtown. And even though I realize that the buildings are still deceivingly distant, I feel as though I can make it to them. I’m getting closer.

I look up at the cloudless sky and for the first time I can discern a couple of faint stars shining up there. I smile and feel a sense of hope rushing into my bones all of a sudden. It’s almost inexplicable but it’s there. Stars have always been these beacons of hope and just the fact that I can see them at all assures me that I am getting close to the edge of Skid Row. I feel sort of safe again, like I’m seeing the metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel. My mood is rising and I feel like nothing can destroy it now.

Hey there, a woman shouts out as she approaches me from somewhere across the street. I swallow hard and jerk my head in her direction. My muscles tighten and my internal reflexes kick into overdrive. I may have to fight. I was hoping to avoid this type of situation. Hey sweetie, can I talk to you for a second, she asks as she walks right up to me. I don’t reply because my reply could not matter less to her. She is going to talk whether I give the permission or not. What the hell does she want? She better not try to start any trouble with me. Just as quickly as the sight of stars elevated my mood, this woman has disintegrated it.

I study her suspiciously as she moves closer. She walks like a misplaced aristocrat having long ago abandoned the prestige of that proud way of life. I get the sense that she is socially confused, a banana dropped in a sea of bananas, yet thinking irrationally that she is an apple because she perceives all of her companions as apples. She’s obviously nuts and very strange and I don’t want her anywhere near me. I would rather have her disappear into wherever she crawled out from and just stop freaking me out. If nothing more she belongs in the frenzied recesses of her own delusions, free to dwell and obsess over the minute details of her life unbothered and unobstructed. She needs to be conversing with her invisible friends, not me. I don’t have the patience for her kind of insanity tonight.

It’s my birthday today, she announces, more or less to me because I’m the only one around. I don’t want to be accused of avid disrespect so I humor the compulsion to engage her with feigned interest. After all, people who are circumstantially unstable can be set off by even the smallest hint of derision and I really don’t want this woman delaying my journey home by turning this interaction into an incident.

So are you going to give me a present, it’s my birthday, the woman reminds me. She sticks out her hand and puts it uncomfortably close to my face. I smile, somewhat tightly, and decide that there is nothing for me to gain from being overly impolite. I need to handle this with finesse in case this woman is prone to acerbic, caustic and altogether violent reactions. More than anything, I have to curb my inner desire to mock her unceasingly for her ostensible stupidity and poor attention to hygiene.

It’s my birthday, she repeats, this time with a little more insistence and I start to worry about what she may do when I eventually deny her request. Even though her demeanor is somewhat giddy right now, I’m afraid her mood will change quickly to bitterness and rage when she sees that I am not going to give her what she wants. Still I would like to do what I can to defuse the situation and the possible eruption of anger and rage that will follow. So I engage her, hoping she remembers my kind spirit when she feels the need to pound my face in for declining to offer her a handout for drugs or booze.

What kind of present, I ask her hesitatingly, feeling pretty fucking apprehensive about her possible answer. She moves closer to me and I take an involuntary step back, knowing for sure that I need a buffer zone. I really don’t appreciate the proximity of this stranger to me; it’s unnerving with her unwashed hair and wild, maniacal eyes. She’s a bomb waiting to explode and I do not want to be in her crosshairs. She could kill me and not feel the teensiest bit of remorse. I hate people like her. They make me fear for my life because they literally have nothing to lose.

Some spare change so I can buy a slice of cake for my birthday, she reveals coyly. I don’t respond so she persists. C’mon sweetie, buy a piece of cake for an old girl on her birthday, she squeaks out shamelessly. I shake my head and tell her that I have no change to offer her. She tilts her head, a clear sign that she doubts my sincerity. But I don’t care; I’ve dealt with her kind before and it’s always the exact same routine. First, they try to act sweet, even flatter you a bit, trying to evoke that sense of sympathy that is all-important to their cause. Then when that does not appear to be working, they move on to this mixture between prodding and negotiating with you. Their negotiations are always silly and senseless but you usually play along because you are afraid of what they might do. The growing signs of frustration typically follow the failed bargaining because they get the sense that they are losing you and they still have hopes of winning you over. But in the end, inevitably, they threaten you and make you believe that you are a bad person because you are not effectuating a handout. It is their last attempt to make you rethink your position and it rarely ever works. But they don’t really care because they had nothing to lose from the start.

Please, it’s my birthday, she begs, unrestrained now and advancing on me slightly. I back up and decline to distribute money once again, asserting that I have nothing to give anyway. It’s sort of the truth; I’ve been a starving artist for some time now. I’m hungry, I just want to get some cake on my birthday, she whines, hoping to get me to reconsider my stance. It’s my birthday, everyone deserves cake on her birthday, she maintains unapologetically. She is really insisting upon letting me know that it’s her birthday today; she really wants me informed on that fact so I may act accordingly. But I hold firm to my stance and refuse to offer a handout of any kind. Besides, I know that cake is not really what this woman intends to buy. Quite the contrary, she will use all the money she obtains tonight to buy a combination of drugs and alcohol. There is no desire on her part for cake. That’s just a ruse directed at eliciting some showing of sympathy and I will not play along. She may not realize it yet but she has the wrong audience in me. I’m hardly the compassionate type and I tend to disbelieve everything that I hear.

C’mon sweetie, I just need a few dollars here, she continues, trying to make the sale. But I shake my head and repeat that I have nothing to offer. She freezes for a second, probably trying to figure out how to play the next part. I’m not sure why she’s tripping; the next part has already been written twice over by countless forerunners before her. It’s true, many have scripted the path and paved the way for what comes next. She is supposed to get angry and relentless and bitter. It’s only a matter of time before she catches on and fills the role. She will freeze here for a few more seconds but she will eventually exhibit her rage. Nothing will work on me, no ploy will be successful, but I do not blame her at all for running through the list and playing all of her cards. She has to try everything or she won’t be able to sleep at night. She will house regrets and that is not a comfortable thing to live with.

Suddenly she shouts loudly, a shriek in its entirety, and then she throws her hands up in the air with apparent frustration. Her scream pierces my ears like a hammer to a glass figurine, shattering loudly and remorselessly. The scream is loud and painful. If she keeps this screaming up, anvil, stirrup and hammer will likely all shatter to indistinguishable pieces on the floor of my respective eardrums. So in order to protect a very important organ of my body, I back away from her and cover my ears with my hands.

Irresponsibly she continues to scream, caring not what damage she might do to my inner ears. I try to hold my distance from her but she advances on me nevertheless, clearly finding my well being to be a low priority. I hate her for that but I will not let on, mostly because it still scares me what she might attempt to do. I’m definitely somewhat wary of her next move. I don’t think that’s being overly paranoid given the circumstances. I fear that she is faster than she looks and I know very well that people, regardless of their affiliations, do not like to be disappointed when requesting things. This woman is seriously capable of lunging at me. I really don’t want to be lunged at. I might not recover from that kind of physical assault.

But she doesn’t lunge at me; she doesn’t do anything except sigh loudly and bitterly in steadfast defeat. Then she just starts walking away from me, slowly at first, sort of wandering and staggering a little, but she picks up the speed once she realizes that I am not a captive audience. She heads back the way I came, back into the depths of Skid Row, all the while muttering angrily to herself. She can mutter about me all she wants and I’ll continue to ignore her angry observations. I’ve met with her kind before and it’s always the same routine, time after time. It’s important to hold firm when it comes to these people; they don’t like to leave it at one negative response. They like to push. For some reason, these types need three or four negative responses before they finally get the hint. But it’s worth it as long as they eventually leave you in peace.

Once I am confident enough that she is heading away from me, I start walking quickly in the other direction, toward downtown. It feels like I have been walking for hours and not gaining any identifiable distance. I start thinking that maybe the skyscrapers are nothing more than merciless mirages whose only reason for existence is to mock my struggle to escape Skid Row. While I could easily freak out about the notion that a mirage is all that I am currently capable of seeing, I suddenly feel surprisingly calm despite this ostensibly volatile atmosphere. I think the good doctor’s pills are really kicking in now, lifting me to a type of tranquility that I cannot account for but can surely respect. No longer is the evident danger of Skid Row all around me, no longer is it as concerning or threatening as it once was. In a very real way I am starting to believe that I will be all right, that no harm will come to me this evening. I’m not sure if it is real or trustworthy but I certainly like the feeling.

With my bloodstream now filled with drugs, almost overrun with the fresh opiates that I have delivered unto it, those familiar feelings of euphoria are returning to caress my every nerve and every muscle. The drugs are rejuvenating that sense of euphoria that I thought I lost years ago. It’s very nice. Everything is perfect, almost blissfully so. I could be on a beach at sunset and feel the exact same way that I do right now. This is absolutely divine. Synthetic, drug-induced chemical reactions of the brain and body are what I truly live for. They save me the trouble of having to produce those feelings naturally and I am in favor of anything that can be created and enjoyed without the exertion of much effort. I would rather save my brain for more important things, like absorbing the somewhat complicated rules of parol evidence.

** 

Finally I reach Broadway and I decide somewhat impulsively to head south and catch up with Ninth Street. There’s a noticeable red glow down Eighth but I ignore it for the time being because Orpheum theatre is coming up on my left and I want to take a moment to admire the old-time theater fa├žade with its long vertical sign and glass-enclosed ticket booth. It’s all lit up tonight, with those bright yellow running lights that aim to draw attention and ultimately attendance to the iconic theater. For some reason I find it comforting that this tired, old place is trying to sustain some amount of life. Its brilliance definitely can draw a crowd from all over the city. In fact, when I was new to the downtown area, I remember being on the One Ten Freeway and spotting the large yellow ‘Orpheum’ sign and just wondering what it was and what it meant. Then when I moved into the loft, I noticed almost immediately that I could see the sign from my bedroom window. It was ubiquitous! At that point, I had to investigate and investigate I did. It’s not really a novelty anymore but sometimes I still stand there by my window or out on my balcony looking at the sign and watching it dance, interchange its yellow and orange lights in a running, rhythmic pattern, alerting everyone to its still existence and trying desperately to drum up some attendance.


** 

I pause briefly in front of the theatre and look in both directions, up and down Broadway Street. There are only a few people out tonight and no one appears to be very interested in stopping at the theatre and taking in a show. It’s kind of sad to see this place lie in the early stage of ruins. I can only imagine that great sign landing in some kind of neon museum, with patrons coming up and wondering where it used to hang. It sort of makes me realize how temporary everything is. How do the decades and centuries pass by so quickly? How can we exist at all when we are in a constant state of decay? The rapid hand of time is the cruelest of bastards.

Nothing makes me think about the ephemeral nature of our lives more than seeing something rot. Just last week, I finally threw out an old pumpkin that I had been keeping around since last fall. I don’t like throwing things away in the prime of their life, regardless of the shift in seasons or the insistence of my roommates. But by the time I got around to throwing it out, it was way past its prime and starting to smell. I figured it was time so I forced myself to discard it. But when I picked it up, I immediately noticed how unnaturally light it was. It made me think for a second. Then I cut it open to solve the mystery. I guess the rot had taken over its insides and dissolved its guts into wispy strands of greenish white tissue. This is what time does to us.

This part of the city is much like the inside of that pumpkin. The rot has taken over everything and there’s really no way to fix it except to just cut the losses and discard it. In this case I guess it would be more cost-feasible to just write this place off. Many people already have done a comparable thing. And every time they hear about another murder or another kidnapping and rape in these parts, when they read that a body was found here, it solidifies their decision to ignore the plight of this place. But what should they really expect when they are voluntarily stuck on the track of a logical circle? It really isn’t inexplicable. Crime keeps people away and because the people are away, crime continues to persist. It’s certainly an ugly cycle but disinterest and disregard is hardly going to fix it.

**

Unfortunately rot is irreversible by its nature and it has a way of expanding like fungus overnight. Soon I imagine that the rot of Skid Row will envelope the rest of downtown, making it so that the whole place becomes nothing more than a festering pile of rank, intolerable putrefaction. I shake my head as I think that last thought. When the time comes where the fungus has overtaken downtown, I really hope to be long gone. I want to move on and see other cities and countries and worlds. Rot is really sinister in its dealings. After it has caused all of its destruction, it just dissipates into the cold, thin air from once it came, leaving only the destruction that it brought behind, avoiding the guilt of what it has done with the remorseless deliberateness of a coldhearted sociopath. I guess coldhearted is somewhat axiomatic when it comes to sociopathy but I felt the need to be more effusive. I like to get descriptions just right.

Whenever I try to imagine this place in the distant future, I always have the tendency to compare it to the Roman Ruins. While it may be hard to believe that our civilization compares to that of the Romans in any measurable way, it is nice to pretend for a second that future kids will study us and try to absorb our wisdom. It would be quite flattering if they thought of us, centuries down the road, with as much awe-inspiring reverence as we think of the Ancient Romans or Ancient Greek. Although it is difficult to fathom a future civilization visiting the Los Angeles Ruins and thinking about our lives with any kind of admiration, it is a somewhat novel thought and I think I’ll entertain it awhile longer. It makes me feel like something bigger than I am.

The clock hasn’t bled enough; it’s only ten o’clock. Still I don’t want to hang out on Broadway any longer than necessary. Although it is safer than some areas, it’s still on the periphery of Skid Row. So I give the bright yellow ‘Orpheum’ sign one last look as I pick up my pace once again. The old theatre wants to keep my attention with its running lights and majestic presence but I have grown bored and unsympathetic to its cause. I guess my imagination is somewhat hyperactive and disloyal. I like the theatre, I really do, because it interests me in a way that few other things do. It’s the closest thing to a relic that I have ever laid my eyes on and right now everything else seems to pale in comparison to its golden hue. But part of this temporal fixation might have to do with the opiates running wild in my bloodstream. I can’t afford to humor it any longer tonight so I move gracefully on. 


As I walk back to Eighth Street to investigate the red glow, I start imagining what Orpheum must have been like back in its prime, back when it was going through its heyday period. On Saturday nights, it must have been the place to be, the best thing in town. Vaudeville performances and other spectacles would rule an otherwise boring night and claim people from all parts of Los Angeles and all walks of life. But today it is much different; the people don’t venture to this side of town very often, unless of course they are terribly lost or avidly drug seeking. It’s kind of a shame.

Not long ago I dreamt that I was walking through Orpheum Theatre, through the high-ceilinged entryways to the fancy, artistic staircases, to the massive theatre room, complete with balcony seating. I saw plush red velvet covering the walls, soft and cushy, and outlined with this golden ribboning that formed intricate little designs that gave it a fifteenth century French palace look. I couldn’t stop too long to really enjoy the theatre and all of its designs because my companion in the dream was chasing me, or I was chasing him, through the halls and out into the lush, proud, and immaculately cared for gardens. As an aside, I’ve never actually stepped one foot inside the establishment so I guess my mind just made everything up. But it was still pretty cool. 




It’s too bad my dream doesn’t represent a shred of truth. Orpheum Theatre could not possibly look the way it did in my dream. As if to cement that theory, I pass an alleyway and see two guys shooting up next to a dumpster opposite the theatre. They have a water bottle sitting next to them with which to cook their junk and wash their works, a bottle that they probably filled with sewer water or some other equally disgusting liquid. Most junkies don’t care at all about discreetness but the cops do patrol this area quite vigorously due to its proximity to Skid Row. In fact, they prowl the area for narcotics busts on a nightly basis, hoping to catch someone, really anyone, with their guard down and their veins filled with junk.

Traditionally speaking, Broadway Street has always sort of been the invisible line between Skid Row and downtown. It seems to be known by everyone who lives or works in the area. Accordingly, the average person rarely ventures down to these parts, mostly out of a very well-founded fear of running into the depraved of heart, the chemical abusers, the physical abusers, or, worst of all, the authorities. This place has a terrible reputation, so the smart ones just stay away. And unfortunately, the filth of this place will never be stamped out. Disincentives abound that continually distract even the most well-intentioned and purest of heart. What’s more, nobody will ever actually witness Skid Row’s gradual destruction of downtown until it is too late. Mark these words, in another hundred years or so, Skid Row will have devoured most of the beloved skyscrapers that now shape the iconic silhouette of downtown Los Angeles. What a world to be born into.

I turn left onto Eighth and follow it west toward the heart of downtown. The red glow is kind of a hard thing to describe because there’s a slight air of fog to the glow, something that produces an eerie kind of delight that makes me feel inexplicably warm inside, like I just drank a nice swig of very smooth scotch. As I get closer to the glow I notice the merging of colors – the red light bounces off the green of the street-lining shrubs and the orange of the lamps above – creating a color that I really can’t define. But I would know that combination of smoke, ethanol and neon red brightness almost anywhere. I’ve been here many times before.

**


The Golden Gopher. This is one of my favorite bars in the city. It is classy yet childish, the perfect mixture of whimsical fantasy and despondent reality. I approach the front door carefully, ignoring the antics on display outside. The warm red glow shrouds my body and makes me feel like I have made the right decision in coming here. If this was a movie I would hear triumphant music playing. I wanted a place where I could waste some time and there is no better place to waste than in a dive bar. And the Golden Gopher isn’t just any ordinary dive bar. It is the king of dive bars.


I don’t recognize the bouncer guarding the door tonight. He has a spider web tattooed on the back left part of his neck and his eyes look unforgiving and mean. This may present a problem because I am not carrying any identification and if he wants to be a dick and card me, then I’m pretty much screwed. As a rule, I rarely keep my drivers’ license on my person. There’s method to that arguable madness. If I am accosted by either a cop or a robber, I would rather they not know who I am and where I live. As far as all cops and robbers are concerned, I am Jane Doe and I live on the streets of Skid Row.

The bouncer is holding a small flashlight in his left hand and he shifts his weight back and forth, from foot to foot, under the red quarrelling fonts of the neon Golden Gopher sign above him. He resembles a gargoyle, bathed in devilish light and brandishing a weapon. I watch him spin his flashlight around in his hand, over and over in a mad cycle, probably trying to ward off the inherent boredom of his job. The only time he stops flipping the flashlight around is when he cruelly decides to shine it in the eyes of passersby and homeless people camped out in the vicinity.

I shake my head in dismay. This bouncer doesn’t really seem like the type of guy who could be successfully swayed by kind words or manipulative maneuvers. He seems rather bitter in fact, causing me to become unsure if I’ll be able to get into the Golden Gopher identification-less tonight. Get out of here, will you, the bouncer yells suddenly at a man in rags about to take up residence alongside the wall of the building. He shines his light in the man’s face and then waves him on down the street. I’m not feeling very confident about my prospects of getting past this guy.

The man grunts and reluctantly moves on. This bouncer is facing an uphill battle if he thinks he can rid the area of the so-called riffraff. Homeless people like to hang around this area because they feel like their begging and pleading for money and alcohol might fall on sympathetic ears. Sometimes when they collect enough money, they even go into the Golden Gopher and haunt the barstools for hours on end, until the bouncers finally kick them out. It’s a predictable cycle that I’ve witnessed many times in the past.

As I finally muster the courage to walk up to the bouncer, I try to figure out a good way to convince him to turn a blind eye and let me pass. I know it’s not going to be an easy task but luckily I have developed somewhat of a knack for persuading men to let me do things over the years. Before I turned twenty-one, I had no other choice but to try to talk my way into a bar. I sure as hell didn’t have the identification to prove anything so I had a lot of practice in perfecting my strategies. I’m pretty much an expert at this point and my irreproachably awesome and beautiful chest can’t hurt my chances. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have used my chest in the past to get into and out of certain places.

When I approach the bouncer he sticks out his hand and asks for my identification. I stare at him and give him the slow once-over, before dragging my gaze back up to meet his. I smile cutely and with an innocence I could only fake as I try to make my eyes gleam and mesmerize a little. It’s the look that tends to portray I like what I see and I am interested but ultimately shy and will therefore present a formidable challenge. He holds my gaze, engaging in a quick staring contest, either to intimidate me or show that he is equally interested and not an unworthy pushover. Eventually he elicits a small chuckle from the back of his throat, gives me a subtle wink and then moves aside with a slight nod. I flash him my most charming smile and walk confidently through the door. That was awesome.

I don’t have to wait long for my eyes to adjust to the light in here. I glance over to my right and note a little glass stand displaying various pieces of merchandise like tee shirts, stickers and lighters. I have never actually seen a single person purchase anything from this glass case, but I have always meant to be the first. I feel like I want to help the Golden Gopher advertise and drum up some business. Of course on the other hand, it would be terrible to see this place get overrun by yuppies searching for the next trend to endorse. If this place ever got trendy, I would have to discontinue my patronage until it could be successfully purged of any residual trendiness. And that would be a monstrous hassle.

It’s mostly black in here with a dark red hue that I find simply alluring. I look up at the once elegant golden chandeliers hanging off the long chains attached to the elevated, twenty-foot tall ceilings and I nod triumphantly. The blood red lights that dot each chandelier make this place feel forbidden and hellish, like something out of a dungeons and dragons plot. I imagine these chandeliers once hung in a castle with light grey bricks and winding, curling staircases. It’s possible that even some form of ghoul once partied under these chandeliers, in the distant past, in some gothic-style setting, serving each other libations containing the blood of humans and the vodka of the gods. I always kind of wondered what sort of negligence suit the Golden Gopher might be looking at if one of these old chandeliers should fall on a patron and trap him mercilessly underneath.


I shake my head and continue to take in my surroundings. They have these nice booth areas that line the inside perimeter, reminiscent of old casino lounges in places like Las Vegas. Each booth is lit with these tiny golden gopher lamps that make me smile when I see them. The exposed brick walls of this establishment are either a lazy accident or a bold statement; I’ve never been able to decide which. But the bar area is actually classier than one might suspect. Two crystal lit chandeliers hover above, lighting the barstools just the right amount to be pleasantly unobtrusive. The best part about the bar is the counter behind it. All the alcohol bottles are lined up and set aglow next to bright white lanterns that might be two times too radiant. But I’m not complaining because it’s quite a sight to see. The large rectangular windows are rimmed in gold with elegant square panes encircling them. The first-timer might have to do a double take on these windows because the view itself leaves much to be desired. Rows of bricks, stacked with remarkable precision and alighted with a blue sort of hue, choke off all sight to the outside world.

I recognize the bartender as Steve something and he gives me one of those knowing head bobs as he walks over to my side of the bar. How’s it going, I ask disinterestedly but with the recommended amount of enthusiasm. He gives me a smile as he sets a rag down on the counter. I haven’t seen you in quite some time, I thought maybe you found another dive bar to hang out in, he says coolly. I laugh and then nod and say something about school, not caring if it is an acceptable excuse or not. What’ll you have, Steve something questions as he continues to clean the bar. I pause for a minute and then order a 7upVodka drink because it tastes good and I am not a terrible fan of alcohol as it is. Still, I respect alcohol’s place in the ordered system and admit that it has its important selling points.

After taking a few sips from my drink, I look around the bar and notice that it is pretty crowded. I guess that makes sense given that it is Saturday night. There are people from all walks of life here for me to observe and judge accordingly. I always have fun drinking and people-watching in bars because the alcohol typically makes them act more like who they actually are and less like who they pretend to be. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

I like sectioning off the bar and making presuppositions. In the left corner near the entrance we have some Riverside tweekers, in town either visiting their girlfriends or waiting for their court appearances, hogging the area with all the old-time video games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. They don’t care much about anything except beating their buddies’ score and scoring more methamphetamine. They are loud, unruly, and a general nuisance. But most people keep their distance because nobody wants to step outside with a guy who has more energy and remorselessness than a pit bull on Ritalin.

The people who have actually come here to drink stay fairly close to the bar, either at the stools themselves or the booths nearby. They keep their hats and other disguises pulled tight over their eyes to discourage anyone else from learning their true identities. Typically speaking these are the neighborhood elementary and high school teachers who come here to reminisce about the old days when they felt like they could do anything. Of course tales of their accomplishments only last so long before they start wondering where their lives went wrong and where their dreams met their untimely deaths. I can answer that question pretty easily but unfortunately they have never asked. It was when they majored in English at the university and took the teaching job with hopes of publishing a novel or going back to graduate school. Although they have terrible, unfulfilled lives, they have mostly accepted it. The younger ones might still be in denial but that’s only because they think that teaching is only a stepping stone job to garner a paycheck while they are on their way to something better. But they’ll learn in time that there is nothing better out there for them. At which point, they will become just as bitter as the older ones.

The smokers congregate on the outdoor patio, and I use the term ‘patio’ loosely because it is not actually a patio. It’s just an outdoor space in between three really tall brick buildings. And sure one can see a couple of stars on a clear night, but it hardly fits the definition of a true patio. The smokers come here to drink but also to suck on Mexican filter tips and giant blunts the size of healthy carrots. The staff usually looks the other way toward the latter group. They sit out there on those makeshift benches and watch the different consistencies of smoke – both tobacco and marijuana – rise in the ambient red glow of the Golden Gopher’s general aura. I’ve watched that smoke float up the sides of the three adjacent buildings in the past, closing in on the ‘patio’ space to the point that could make a normal, well-adjusted person feel heavily claustrophobic, not to mention oxygen-deprived. 

-Not The End But The End For This Particular Forum





**Please suspend your disbelief. Some of the pictures were taken in the Day but should be perceived as if they were taken in the Night.