the air was almost black along with foul smelling. at first he thought it was a dream. vietnam? long ago? no. not that. this was real too but in the present. the odd time travel bit was happening again. at least there were no ringing phones. he rubbed his eyes for several seconds. maybe it was a dream after all. when he stopped and opened his eyes again the black air was still there. he sighed. the foul air burning his lungs.
he was standing on a sidewalk. he knew where he was. east l.a. and it was summer in the city of lost angels. so much for his memory of last night and the dead of winter up north in his little country cottage. oh, man, was about all he could think of at the moment.
it was already very hot for early morning. even for lotus land summer. a nasty inversion layer was trapping every bit of particulate matter low to the ground. it was at least several hundred feet thick. almost like the the hills were on fire. and burning madly down towards the valleys. he coughed and rubbed his eyes again and noticed a homeless man walking towards him carrying a couple of large crumpled paper cups. the guy was big and vibed bad juju. he was still a couple of hundred feet away though. but, making a bee line straight towards him. turning the man walked quickly in the opposite direction.
he was on city terrace drive and marengo. just south and steps from the rush of the 10 freeway. he stayed on city terrace and kept moving east. for some reason he thought of the house not too far away. years ago, every christmas, it was decorated with thousands of lights. you could see it from the freeway as you either flew by or crawled by as the case may be. one christmas, before emma, a vietnamese girl he was dating made him take her by the house. up close the house was even more impressive. it was massive as well. a small but steady stream of cars made their way by the home. a portly guy and his wife were out front dressed as mr. and mrs. claus. christmas carols played from hidden speakers. the lights glimmered and twinkled. it was almost jaw dropping. especially when santa walked up to the car and handed his giggling date a handful of christmas candy through the open car window. ‘merry christmas!’ he said with a distinct mexican accent. incongruous at best. totally lala land.
the house was still there. still massive but nothing about it spoke of any christmas memories. he stopped to look at the home and catch his breath and wondered aloud if it was still a christmas tradition. he glanced west and was pleased to see that the homeless had given up on whatever it was he was thinking. he had headed back to his probable corner at soto and marengo where he might catch some spare change from folks leaving the usc medical centers. county usc and keck a bit further east nestled in the small rolling hills of east l.a.
moving west again he wondered why he was there. he did know that eventually somehow or another he’d end up back home again. it was just one of those things. he wasn’t used to it but there was nothing he could do about it. what bothered him was not knowing what was going to happen. he never knew. he wondered if he’d see the angel/nurse/government agent again. or keith. one or the other usually showed up. sometimes together.
he was passing the vista motel a large early 60’s structure. he’d never seen it from this angle. it was always from the freeway. you couldn’t miss it. it was big and sat right on the side of the road. with the constant freeway noise he often had wondered how anyone ever got any rest. on the side of the street he was on he’d stopped in the shade of a mexican cantina. he stuck his hands in his pockets and came out with a few small bills. the bar was already open so he went inside to get out of the heat, to grab a beer, and think a bit more.
it was dark and cool inside. as his eyes became adjusted to the light he noticed a couple of other early morning or all night drinkers were down at the end of the bar furthest from the door. the place reeked of stale beer, old smoke, and seedy desperation. as he settled into a bar stool his bare arms stuck to the bar top. the bartender wandered over wiping his hands on an old dirty towel. he made a sad attempt at cleaning the bar top with the rag.
‘cerveza, por favor. coors light.’, the man said, as he placed a five spot on the bar.
the bartender nodded and went to fetch the beer.
the beer arrived sans a glass which given the circumstances was just as well. the TV was on and as he sipped the ice old brew he watched it without much interest. it was the news on a local spanish station. a rather pretty reporter was standing in front of the old parker center building yammering away in spanish about something or another. the only interest he was paying was to her ample cleavage. given his meager knowledge of spanish he’d gleaned she was talking about a murder that had occurred last night. the suspect was still apparently at large also apparently considered to be armed and dangerous. he yawned then sipped his beer.
the next moment was one of those things that made these time travel deals a white knuckled scary ride. it was as if he’d plunged through all of dante’s rings and had boarded the boat steaming into the port of hades. his picture appeared on the TV. ms boobs was saying something about the photo being the suspect the cops were searching for. a person interest. yeah, it was him. what the fuck? he was even wearing the clothes he had on in the photo.
he was so startled he was sitting ramrod straight on the bar stool. his bottle of beer frozen halfway to his lips. jesus, a new wrinkle indeed. he finally got his arm to move again and he drank long from the beer. thankfully, neither the bartender or the drunks at the other end of the bar were paying no attention to him or the TV. he finished his beer. left the five on the bar. said nothing then stepped back out into the black air, hot sun, and blinding light.