The Helix Center spotlights reach into the cosmos and beckon for us to come closer. This must have been what the arrow in the sky had in mind when it first began to beckon me, when it first began to lead us to this place. Whatever game or concert is going on within its loins should be ending pretty soon. That means possible victims of mockery will be flooding the streets anytime now, begging for us to deride them. While we wait impatiently, we decide to walk through the area just outside the stadium and peruse the cart vendors’ merchandise, usually on sale for half price once the show has begun. If you remind the vendors about how they will have to lug all of their unsold junk back to their respective homes or overpass bridges, they usually knock off another twenty percent to incentivize the buy. This is where I typically find gifts and other trinkets to give people on their special occasions, like birthdays, largely antiquated traditions that are unfortunately still necessary in most social situations of today. I don't typically poke at social contracts because anarchy -- despite any and all words to the contrary -- is really not in my best interest.
Irrespective of the topic under current discussion, Justin all of a sudden becomes obsessed with buying chupa-chups, a type of lollipop that is inexplicably rare in these parts. He voices his utmost desire to purchase the candy, somehow becoming convinced that they are all laced with ecstasy and thereby spurring a long and intricate recounting of his candy flipping days. I always considered chupa-chups quite elegant and tasteful, and that was even before I found out that they were the brainchild of Salvador Dali, who admittedly designed them later on in his life when paranoia and artistic frenzy had the best of him. Since learning that little tidbit of information, I have become extra fond of the candy. But this is the first I am hearing about them being laced with ecstasy or any drug other than sugar for that matter. Previous to this crazy assertion by Justin, I believed that chupa-chups were nothing more than a delicious candy treat. The looks on the faces of my companions as they listen to Justin’s insistence on the matter leads me to make the obvious deduction that this topic of conversation has been ongoing for quite some time now. I must have missed out on hearing about it due to my pursuance of other avenues of thought and interest. But now I’m transfixed.
Let’s find some chupa-chups and add some candy to this flipping, Justin suggests with a smirk, probably considering himself an ingenious wordsmith at the moment. I roll my eyes but make no comment on his suggestion. I have to admit that I was very fond of chupa-chups back in the day. Incidentally they were my lifeblood for a while when I was younger and a bit of a sugar fiend, but they have faded from the forefront of my mind in recent years. Of course that does not mean I would be at all adverse to acquiring and consuming some tonight. In fact now that Justin has brought them up, they are pretty much the only thing I can think about with any kind of clarity. I feel now that I must acquire some.
Soon the need to consume chupa-chups consumes my mind. Everything about them that I can recall was perfect: the creamy smooth taste, the perfect manageable size, and the plastic stick. If I’m honest, the stick was one of the best parts about the chupa-chup experience and the main thing that made them what they are. Because the stick was not paper, it did not come apart in your mouth or get stuck to the candy itself. One was free to enjoy the candy lollipop without the risk of swallowing a bunch of errant paper. They truly made for a better lollipop experience and I always felt fortunate when I was able to find some.
Chupa-chups are exactly what this trip needs right now. Of course they can be exceedingly hard to come by. This I recall from my own past obsession. Sean interjects by claiming that they are being made in the sky right now and that they will drop down to us mere mortals when we need them. But while this statement brings a slight and somewhat amused smile to my face, reminding me again of the swirling candy in the sky, I do not believe for one second that he is correct in that assertion. Dali’s chupa-chups are not made in the sky. That is absolutely silly. But the similarity in thoughts between Sean and I does make me think that maybe we are on the same wavelength. It’s possible that by taking two hits I somehow launched myself ahead of Sean and the rest of them, causing me to be able to perceive the future in some respect. If true, it would be a pretty awesome ability. Sometime I may attempt to take five hits just so that I can inform my companions of what their trips will be like before they even take them. The idea makes me laugh out loud; they would be so angry.
Remy suddenly walks up to a passerby on the street and asks him if he has any chupa-chups to spare. He declines to respond but the confused and somewhat frightened look on his face causes the rest of us to laugh hysterically. There was just something about his hesitancy to respond and his scrunched up eyebrows that has set us into a fit of laughter. I have yet to witness confusion as simple and pure as that man’s was. Remy returns to our group shrugging her shoulders, forcing us to erupt in laughter all over again. Once we recover, we decide to put all of our cognitive efforts into finding ways to obtain chupa-chups at this late hour.
The air quickly becomes thick with tension. I think we are all beginning to feel the dire need for the chupa-chups and the ubiquitous fear that we will never be able to find any. We can all agree at this point that chupa-chups will guarantee that the rest of our trip is both pleasant and safe, something that nothing else can ensure. I begin to realize that consuming chupa-chups is the only way to protect us from the green universe and the nauseous feeling that has thus far gone hand in hand. I share that idea with my companions who all seemed to have come to the same conclusion minutes earlier.
As soon as that notion is out there, proposed by me and verified by the others, I begin to notice the neon green color everywhere I look. At first it starts with subtle infiltration, a little green here a little green there. Before long though, it becomes prevalent in my sight line, ten times worse than it was earlier in the evening. Back then it was merely irritating; now it is fully agonizing. I cannot look anywhere, including the inside of my own eyelids, without seeing some aspect of that neon green. I convince myself, and eventually the others that the only way to cure us of the neon green that is infiltrating our universe and vanquish it from the forefronts of our minds permanently is to locate some chupa-chups and consume them decisively. The sweet, sugary vanilla is the only thing that will save us from the certain death of living in a horrendously neon green universe.
There has to be a convenience store around here somewhere. Figueroa is one of the main drags of downtown Los Angeles and therefore it should be rife with public amenity stores. I’ve never really noticed them before, but they must exist around here somewhere. If chupa-chups aren’t a staple of life then I don’t know what is. Of course there is the possibility that society in general does not share our current fondness for the item in question but that seems oddly improbable. In a green universe like this one is fast becoming, the necessity for chupa-chups is not optional; it is a basic means of survival.
After about the fourth person ignores our desperate request for chupa-chups, we decide to search the area around the Helix Center for possible chupa-chup venues, like drug stores, pharmacies, grocery stores and liquor marts. I try to dodge the persistent green to the best of my ability but it is getting tough without the aid and comfort of a chupa-chup. This situation has become a vicious circularity that we cannot seem to escape. If we had the chupa-chups, the neon green would not haunt us because the candy would successfully suppress it. But if the neon green was not haunting us, we would have no reason to hunt for the chupa-chups in the first place. It’s a vicious circularity indeed.
There is a shadow ahead of us from a light that I cannot account for. Somehow I become aware of the fact that turning around to search for the source will be a dangerous endeavor so I refuse to engage the shadow in any meaningful way. But that doesn’t stop it from mocking me. Off to our right, down a small alleyway is a neon green, even-legged cross sign that indicates that a pharmacy is nearby. The neon green cross has developed into the universal sign for a pharmacy, something I find somewhat odd considering logic would dictate the cross be red. I start to wonder if maybe the universal sign has switched colors recently due to the universe becoming green and violet. That would make the most amount of sense.
We are tempted to check the pharmacy for chupa-chups because of our desperate need to survive, but we ultimately decide against venturing down the dark alleyway because of the brilliant omnipresence of the neon green sign out front. The entire place is alight in a green glow that chills our very bones. None of us feel strong enough to face the green head-on, much less journey inside its loins and throw ourselves on its mercy. Besides, I don’t believe neon green universes are merciful by any definition of the word and while the universe may want us to find and consume chupa-chups, I am quite certain it would not want us to be swallowed up in that humble pursuit. Vomit-induced asphyxiation due to prolonged neon green exposure is also a significant concern that should not be overlooked. In fact, it is the ultimate deciding factor in our unanimous resolution to turn away from the neon green cross and look elsewhere for our much-needed chupa-chups.
Jack suddenly alerts us to a convenience store sitting a block in a half up the street on the right hand side. This better not be a tease because I’m pretty sure our time is running out in this dangerously green universe. As we near closer to the establishment, I can see the open sign displayed prominently in the window and I realize that it is not the mirage that I had once feared it could be. For the first time in a long time I feel a sense of hope, hope that things could potentially get better. It feels nice to look into the future and see some amount of brightness.
The door of the convenience store is propped open and I pass through it easily and unobstructed. I look around the store briefly before I hear benign and welcoming music coming from the front. Simultaneously or as much so as I can register in my current state, my eyes connect with a stand perched to the left of the cash register, beckoning for my complete and undivided attention. It is almost like the clouds parting for the sun, everything seems brighter and much more in focus than it did earlier. There are even golden rays of light directed toward the stand, bathing the product in light and signaling the very thing we have been searching for this whole entire time.
It’s a stand of lollipops, chupa-chups to be exact. The music is loud and glorious. With their Dalian color-patterned wrappers, I would recognize chupa-chups anywhere. What’s more, they are surrounded in a violet glow, a clear sign of their awesomeness and purity. They are truly our saving grace. My companions come up behind me, awe-inspired and silent in their own revelry. Their gasps of amazement are felt but not heard. They have followed my line of inquiry and found the chupa-chups as well. I can tell by their hushed whispers of excitement and unadulterated glee. Instantly, we all gravitate toward the chupa-chups at the front of the store near the cash register, again without exertion or the spending of excess energy. The chupa-chups are like magnets compelling us to come hither and investigate. Even without the undeniable pull, we would never dream of resisting their tempting allure. We know that these chupa-chups are the only vehicle of human salvation. It is the chupa-chup alone that will get us through this nasty transition of color. We have finally found exactly what we have been searching for the majority of the night. Now it is us alone who hold the key to surviving the new universe and I must say that these keys look quite magnificent. I am definitively star-struck.
At the counter near the register I waste no time in plucking up chupa-chups by the handful out of their stationary tin stand. I grab hold of a choco-vanilla flavored chupa-chup and immediately tear it open and place it in my mouth. Yum, it tastes just as I remember. The clerk eyes me as I take the rest of the chupa-chups off the stand and place them in the pockets of my jacket. He immediately confronts me about taking all of the chupa-chups and demands that I don’t start any trouble here. I dismiss his warnings as I turn away and begin to browse the rest of the store. I am vaguely aware of Jack approaching the cashier and paying him for all of the chupa-chups that I took. Jack issues some kind of half-assed apology for my irreverent behavior. I appreciate how non-flyers are always very attentive to community standards, keeping us flyers safe from the hassle and ridicule of the public.
Sean, Justin and Remy come up behind me and start hounding me for the chupa-chups that I just pocketed. They have become quite jealous of my sole possession and complete dominion over the delectable candy. They care not about the old axioms of ‘finders keepers’ or ‘to the winner go the spoils’. I sigh and consider their arguments in favor of sharing with them. They will bother me incessantly for chupa-chups if I don’t give in. I don’t really want to deal with that kind of harassment, not now. Though I do hesitate to oblige them, I eventually give in to their demands. After all, I can still sort of remember how frightening it was for me to look on at the neon green before this magic chupa-chup elixir took merciful effect and began protecting me from the horrible and disorienting visions that plagued my recent life. I would not wish that kind of torture on my worst enemy or chief nemesis. So after taking all of that into account, I reach into my pockets and apportion out the chupa-chups in fair numbers to my loyal companions. They deserve respite from the neon green just as much as I do.
Once Sean, Remy and Justin all get a chupa-chup into their respective mouths and a few more into their reserves, they become much better company for me. It is an almost unfathomable transition that only the incredibly observant could detect. My companions literally go from spewing apocalyptic ramblings to marveling over how calm and beautiful the violet auras that encircle the various light sources of this meager convenience store are. It is amazing how one lick of a chupa-chup can change your entire outlook on life. I am in awe of the kind of power and prestige something like that must garner. I should stock up on these chupa-chups and then sell them for insanely high prices at the upcoming summer desert concerts in Southern California. I could make a serious killing.
Jack starts ushering us out of the store after he notes that we each received what we came in here for. He is attempting to keep us on track with our plans of going to the Helix Center and mocking the people who leave the stadium. He may be just trying to ensure a good trip for all of us but I have my reservations. No non-flyer is that unselfish. He must have some kind of ulterior motive for going to Helix tonight because he is overly interested in getting us there in a timely manner. In his mind, there is no time to spare. I’ve observed him on more than one occasion tonight checking his wristwatch for the time. Though I cannot imagine what his motives are, I can say with some degree of certainty that they are not as pure as he would have us believe. He is not rushing us along here for our own good and wellbeing; he is doing this for himself, for undeniably selfish reasons. I’m just unsure yet what he gains by getting to the Helix Center by a specific time. But it will all become clear later on. I’m not concerned about it now.
Once back outside, the cold air greets me like a slap in the face. The store was nice and warm but the temperature out here is frigidly cold. The warmness of the electrifying wind is now gone, and in its place is this unceasing chill that cares not about our individual needs. Things seem to be moving fast again and I note with a combination of pleasure and disdain that the winds have come back with full force. Of course they are much colder now than they were earlier on. The wind always seems to pick up pretty strong in these parts. The skyscrapers of downtown cause wind vortices to gush toward us and through us, providing ample resistance and discouraging our humble goal of getting back on our path. The wind is pushing us hard backward, the way we came, but we determine not to let the monster face of Aeolus deter us for too long. There is mocking to be done and secrets to be found out. Jay has a particular goal in mind at Helix and we may need to hamper it. And now with our bountiful supply of chupa-chups, it is as if we can accomplish any and all feats. Nothing is out of our bounds and range. So we forge onward, confident in our newfound abilities to withstand the forces of this changed universe. Mankind might be doomed but with our chupa-chups, we will persevere.
As we near closer to the Helix Center once again, the wind begins to play a cruel joke. Unbelievably it seems to be picking on me in particular. Without warning and much to my chagrin, strands of my hair begin whipping around my face, suddenly and surreptitiously turning into vicious snakes, much like medieval Medusa. But unlike her rumored snake hair, these snakes are malignant, disloyal and heavily volatile, wrapping tightly around my chupa-chup on its voyage to and from my mouth. The snakes threaten to carry the lollipop off and leave me alone in the dismal neon green abyss, to live out the rest of my pitiful life nauseous and gripped in madness. I can’t let that happen. But unfortunately it seems that I am not strong enough to stop them from clutching my favorite candy and yanking it free of my grasp. The snakes around me hiss and wrap their bodies tight around the plastic stem of my chupa-chup, forcing it unceremoniously out of my hand. I call out as the chupa-chup sits suspended in the air just out of my reach. I try to snatch and grab at it but I fail miserably. The snakes have succeeded in ripping it away from me for good. I scream violently as the chupa-chup falls to the ground, shattering loudly into a myriad of hard candy pieces. No!
That’s it. That’s all it takes. It’s like a spell has been broken. The neon green all around me is back and it’s stronger than ever. I have failed to prevent it from infiltrating my mind, the only place that I, at least at one time, could feel some modicum of safety within. But that’s all over now. It’s done. I let the evil hands of an ancient god ultimately prevail and I only have myself to blame. I feel defeated. I feel low, really low, below rock bottom low. Losing the chupa-chup has stunned me into silence and pathetic submission. There’s nothing I can say, there’s nothing I can do to fix it now. Suddenly I feel intense despair and self-loathing. I chastise myself for my overt recklessness and complete inability to fend off the snakes and save the lollipop from its brutal destruction. This is all my fault. I deserve what’s coming. The neon green should have me. I should not fight its brutal takeover.
As I stop in my tracks and kneel down next to the shattered pieces of my fallen lollipop, Justin comes up beside me and bends down to my level. He places his hand on my shoulder and sighs, undoubtedly mourning the chupa-chup in the same way that I am. Justin understands my despair but he quickly advises me to forget about the fallen chupa-chup and retrieve another one from my pocket. He claims that mourning does no good at all; it changes nothing. Though I believe him to be essentially correct in his proclamation, I can’t bring myself to let it go, not yet. Again, Justin reminds me that I have other chupa-chups at my disposal, and that I need not allow the evil neon green universe to champion over me. This time his words get through to my consciousness. I had forgotten about the other chupa-chups! I smile as I reach my hand inside my pocket and grasp a brand new chupa-chup. I bring it out in front of me and admire its beauty. Justin is right. I don’t have to let the green universe win. I still have weapons to fight it. This is not over yet.
Jack walks back over to us and then immediately starts complaining about wasting time. Justin nods and then signals for me to stand up. I begrudgingly comply and rise to my feet slowly. It seems that my companions want to get moving again, largely unconcerned with the tragedy that I just suffered. Though I do have other chupa-chups, I really liked that particular chupa-chup that I lost. I feel bad that it has met its demise so young and so unfulfilled. I feel heavily responsible and ashamed for allowing it to die. If it hadn’t have been for my carelessness, that chupa-chup may have been able to lead a nice life. It may have even been able to find a worthy person that could have enjoyed it fully and completely. It does not deserve to lie in the street, broken and forced to exist here amongst the trash of downtown Los Angeles.
Let’s get going, Justin urges as he taps my arm and insists that we move on. I nod solemnly, still staring down at the shattered chupa-chup at my feet. Our time together was so brief, so hopelessly and devastatingly brief. I wish our special relationship could have lasted longer. But the neon green of other universes is starting to infiltrate this one again. There’s no time to waste mourning what is no more. I need to suppress the green now to survive on my own so I instantly unwrap the new chupa-chup, and with hurriedness I force it into my mouth. I breathe an instant sigh of relief as I take my first taste of the candy and watch as the neon green disappears once again from the forefront of my mind.
The nasty color that I have come to regard as harsh and cruel, the very same neon green color that has been plaguing my life for a majority of the night, recedes swiftly into darkness like a frightened turtle. The first taste of this new chupa-chup is like magic all over again; a new spell has been cast and it may be more powerful than the last one. Just as soon as the neon green descended upon my world to engulf every fiber of my being, it is gone once again into the background. Blackness alone is here with me now, but it is a blackness that I can respect and adore wholeheartedly. I thank Justin for his suggestion and vow not to let the wind or the snakes prevail against me ever again. He nods and we get moving on our way.
In order to combat this viciously persistent wind, the sole force that turned my hair into snakes and led to the demise of my first chupa-chup, I make an executive decision. I choose to discount the wind’s presence and self-proclaimed power over my life, hoping that once ignored it will give up its harassment of me, and perhaps move on to someone more fitting and worthy of its attention and efforts. I have to make the wind as unimportant as a mother’s college education. And I can do that. I’ve had plenty of practice designating things as unimportant in my life. The wind is not here; the wind is dead to me. I’m not worried about the wind at all. It cannot affect me. These are nice mantras. They have nice rings to them. But will they save me from the wind’s vengeance? Only time will tell.
Either way I’m going to strive really hard to take these lessons to heart. I think it will work out pretty well for me in the end. I really do. I have to believe that things are going to get better. I feel like they should. The opposite possibility is a little too much to bear right now. Besides, the climb has just begun for us. We are still on the pleasurable incline. Before this night is over, I’m going to be on top of the metaphorical world, looking out and feeling triumphant for no reason at all. I admit that before in the past when I would hold myself up to such outward acclaim it was nothing more than insane delusions of grandeur that I could not truly substantiate. In fact, I am famous for proclaiming things that rarely come to fruition. But this time is different. This feeling is making me confident, to a degree that I have rarely been able to covet. I won’t stop issuing proclamations just because it is socially irresponsible to continue doing so. I am mine after all.
The dead calm of pure silence creeps into my head as my thoughts end naturally and we continue to walk north on Figueroa Street. It almost feels like I was somehow able to cause the world’s sound to disappear, instead of merely the wind. But now neither sound nor wind is bothering me much, and I like it. It seems the power of my mind is way beyond reproach tonight. Considering the strong silence all around us, I casually begin to wonder if anyone can hear anything at all anymore. I certainly do not hear anything. But could that just be me, could that just be my affliction alone? Or did I effectuate some kind of maneuver that effected the world as a whole. Again, only time can be the judge of that. And I am nothing if not open to hearing its undignified ruling in this respect.
: The European Neon Green Pharmacy Crosses were the inspiration for this particular segment.